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As Avian Flu Spreads, Precautions Are Urged to Protect Dairy Cows and the Public

By Rachel Cohen

At county fairs and livestock shows, farmers and 4-H kids celebrate the work of raising agricultural animals. They might even walk away with prizes.

But Colorado State Veterinarian Dr. Maggie Baldwin said these events can be opportunities for spreading disease.

“You're bringing together animals that are originating from different herds and may have a different level of disease status,” she said.

Avian flu continues to spread in dairy cows, with more than 130 herds affected nationwide. Colorado and Idaho have seen the highest number of cases in cows.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the risk to humans from avian flu is low. However, those with greater exposure to sick animals have a higher risk of infection. Since the first case in cows was detected in March, three people have contracted the virus — all of whom were farm workers who had close contact with cows.

In advance of summer events, farmers bringing livestock to fairs and shows are being urged to take more safety measures. Colorado issued guidance encouraging farmers to test lactating cows for infection before taking them on the road.

“The goal would then be that we're not bringing any currently affected animals to the show,” Baldwin said.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture said event staff should limit interactions between different herds.

The New Mexico Department of Agriculture said the state’s livestock board plans to increase biosecurity measures at fairs and exhibits, like posting signs to educate event-goers on hand washing after being around animals.

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