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Idaho dairy officials report avian flu affected cows are recovering

It’s been two weeks since the initial detection of a strain of bird flu in dairy cows. As of Tuesday, 20 herds had been infected across six states, including one in Idaho.

About eight cows on a Cassia County dairy farm got sick after the farm imported cattle from a Texas operation, where animals later tested positive for bird flu.

The sick cows were eating less and producing less milk; the milk they did produce appeared thicker than usual.

The animals were isolated, but are improving, said Rick Naerebout, the CEO of the Idaho Dairymen's Association.

"They seem to be on the upswing," he said. "They are nearly a week now without symptomatic cattle and their feed intake and milk production has bounced back to normal, and so it appears everything is headed in the right direction."

While one Texas worker contracted the virus, there have been no confirmed cases among humans since. No workers on the Idaho farm have shown symptoms, Naerebout said.

The Cassia County farm was prepared to protect workers, he said, and already supplies them PPE like eye protection and gloves.

A spokesperson for the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare said the state and local health departments are "collaborating to ensure employees of the affected farm have information in writing about how to prevent exposure and to watch out for symptoms," and did not say whether health officials had been to the farm.

Naerebout says, across the country, the dairy industry still has questions about the virus, like whether a vaccine can be developed for cows. Fortunately, he said, in Idaho, the spread seems to have been contained to a few animals on one farm.

The Idaho State Department of Agriculture emphasized that milk from affected cows poses no human health risk because of the high-heat pasteurization process. Initially, Idaho prohibited cattle from entering from Texas, Kansas and New Mexico, but has since adapted the restriction to "any premises in an affected state where a bovine animal has tested positive for Bovine Influenza A virus (BIAV)."

Scott Leibsle, Idaho's state veterinarian, expressed concern primarily for the potential impact of the virus on milk production on dairy farms. Naerebout added that the Cassia County farm's production was minimally affected, with the removal of sick cows from the production lines resulting in less than a 5% reduction in overall production during that period.

Find reporter Rachel Cohen on X @racheld_cohen

Copyright 2024 Boise State Public Radio

Copyright 2024 Boise State Public Radio News. To see more, visit Boise State Public Radio News.

Rachel Cohen joined Boise State Public Radio in 2019 as a Report for America corps member. She is the station's Twin Falls-based reporter, covering the Magic Valley and the Wood River Valley.