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As avian flu spreads, precautions are urged to protect dairy cows and the public at fairs and shows

Dairy cows munch during feeding time.
Melanie Dabovich
Associated Press
In advance of summer events, farmers bringing livestock to fairs and shows are being urged to take more safety measures because of the spread of avian flu. Colorado and Idaho have seen the highest number of cases.

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. But 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 farmworkers who had close contract with cows.

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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 increased biosecurity measures at fairs and exhibits, like posting signs to educate event-goers on hand washing after being around animals.

Some states like Oregon, Wisconsin and Michigan are taking precautions further. There, lactating cows need a negative test to attend events.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Nevada Public Radio (KNPR) in Las Vegas, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, KUNC in Colorado and KANW in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Rachel Cohen is the Mountain West News Bureau reporter for KUNC. She covers topics most important to the Western region. She spent five years at Boise State Public Radio, where she reported from Twin Falls and the Sun Valley area, and shared stories about the environment and public health.