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Michigan county fairs following enhanced biosecurity measures amid avian flu outbreak

Dairy cows with tags in their ears are looking through a fence.
Michelle Jokisch Polo
Dairy cows at a farm in Ionia County. Dairy farms have to adhere to enhanced biosecurity measures following an outbreak of bird flu.

County fairs in Michigan are following new regulations in an effort to curb the spread of the highly pathogenic avian influenza virus. Currently, the measures mandated by the state include handwashing stations and bans on the display of certain livestock.

In the latest outbreak of bird flu among dairy cows and poultry, nearly seven million birds and 25 herds in Michigan have been impacted.

According to the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD), any cattle headed for county fairs must be tested for the virus at least a week before the event. Signs must also be posted outside every barn sheltering livestock that informs fairgoers about biosecurity.

Martin Fabrik, the President of the Eaton County Fair Board, says the farming community is used to these safety measures, adding that the outbreak isn’t new.

“Lactating cows are not allowed, and neither are pregnant cows that are within two months of calving. We’re going to have plenty of handwashing stations and hand sanitizing stations,” Fabrik said.

But Fabrik said he is not expecting to see a dip in attendance, usually about 40 thousand for the fair itself, due to the non-fatal nature of the virus. So far, most cattle that get infected are not being culled because they typically recover without extra treatment.

“It's unfortunate that it happens, but we've learned to work with it. I don't believe it's going to affect us financially or even attendance-wise. I would tell patrons to absolutely, you know, make sure you're washing your hands,” Fabrik said.

This year, there have been four human cases of avian flu in the United States tied to exposure from dairy cows. Two of them were in Michigan. All of the people who contracted the virus suffered from mild symptoms like pink eye before recovering.

After the announcement in early May of biosecurity regulations to prevent the spread of the virus, there has been some easing of restrictions from state.

Fabrik said he was relieved he'll be able to hold the fair's poultry show after MDARD lifted a ban on poultry exhibitions in late June.

“So, early on, we did cancel our poultry show, but we have since decided to go ahead and do that. Per MDARD, there are still some requirements that we have to meet.”

The Eaton County Fair runs July 8-13.

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