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State Health Officials Anticipate Safe Fair Season Amid “Bird Flu” Concerns

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State Health Officials Anticipate Safe Fair Season Amid “Bird Flu” Concerns

June 18, 2024 5:24 PM CDT

By: Ella Saph

MADISON, Wis. (Civic Media) – The Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS) wants fair-goers to be safety-conscious when interacting with animals this summer. Animals carry diseases that can be transmitted to humans, but DHS says simple precautions can keep Wisconsinites safe at fairs and petting zoos.

The DHS recommends washing your hands with soap and warm water after interacting with animals, avoiding animals that look sick, and washing the clothes and shoes you wore to the fair when you get home.

Summer fair season comes at a time when Wisconsin is monitoring the spread of avian influenza, or HPAI, among dairy cows, poultry, and wild birds. A “highly pathogenic” strain of H5N1–meaning a strain with a high mortality rate for infected animals–emerged in wild birds and domestic poultry in the U.S. in 2022. 

Since this March, the USDA has confirmed cases of H5N1 in dairy cows in at least 12 states. This is the first time this strain of HPAI has been seen in cattle. However, Wisconsin has no confirmed cases of HPAI in either animals or humans at this time. 

The Center for Diseases Control (CDC) says that the H5N1 health risk for humans is low. There have only been four reported cases of H5N1 in humans in the U.S. this year; all individuals made full recoveries. Dr. Angie Maxted, State Public Health Veterinarian says Wisconsinites can keep the safety precautions simple this summer.

“We think fairs are great educational opportunities for people to learn about animals and interact [with them],” said Maxted. “Basic, common sense measures will go a long way against H5N1 or any other diseases animals may have.”

Despite the low risk Wisconsin fairgoers have of catching the “bird flu,” Thomas Haupt, DHS Research Scientist and Epidemiologist says DHS is preparing to address any potential cases.

“We’re going to be working with the local public health departments and providers to be sure that we’re testing people that need to be tested,” said Haupt. “But we also want to assure the public that it’s not a panic situation as of yet, as I said the risk is very low at this point.” 

The Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection will be requiring all dairy cattle attending a fair or exhibition be tested for H5N1

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