HomeHealthMichigan's bird flu restrictions evoke memories of COVID-19 measures | Vopbuzz.com

Michigan’s bird flu restrictions evoke memories of COVID-19 measures | Vopbuzz.com

Some dairy farmers are resisting Michigan’s nation-leading efforts to stop the spread of bird flu, fearing their incomes will be hurt by the extra costs and harm rural America.

Government restrictions that include tracking people coming and going from farms are reviving unwanted memories of COVID-19 in Martin and other small towns in central Michigan.

The state has two of the four known human cases, all dairy workers, since federal authorities confirmed the first case in U.S. cattle in late March. The state has tested more people than any of the 12 states with confirmed cases in cows, according to a Reuters analysis of state health departments. Testing policies vary by state.

Public health experts fear the disease could become another pandemic just a few years after COVID-19. As those fears grow, other states are watching the adoption and success or failure of Michigan’s proactive response, looking for a roadmap beyond federal containment guidelines.

More than a dozen interviews with Michigan producers, state health officials, researchers and industry groups, as well as preliminary data, so far show limited participation by dairy farmers in efforts to contain and study the virus. In some cases, calls from local health officials are going unanswered, money for dairy farm research goes unclaimed and workers continue to milk cows without additional protective equipment.

Brian DeMann, a dairy farmer in Martin, Michigan, said the outbreak and the state’s response are reminiscent of COVID-19. The 37-year-old believes Michigan’s rules to contain bird flu would be more widely adopted if they were recommendations rather than requirements for farmers.

“Nobody knows if this is going to stop what we’re being told to do,” said DeMann, who echoed the vague sentiment shared by other farmers. “Just like in 2020, people didn’t like being told what to do.”

Brian DeMann, a dairy farmer in Martin, Michigan, said the outbreak and the state’s response are reminiscent of COVID-19. The 37-year-old believes Michigan’s rules to contain bird flu would be more widely adopted if they were recommendations rather than requirements for farmers.

“Nobody knows if this is going to stop what we’re being told to do,” said DeMann, who echoed the vague sentiment shared by other farmers. “Just like in 2020, people didn’t like being told what to do.”

Tim Boring, Michigan’s director of agriculture, said social stigma and economic concerns surrounding the infections have discouraged farmers from testing cows for bird flu in the nation’s sixth-largest milk producer.

“There are a lot of factors that contribute to concerns about farms starting to do positive activity,” he said. “We know that’s been an issue in Michigan.”

The state last reported an infected dairy herd on July 9, the 26th case to test positive. Five other states have also confirmed cases in the past month, and about 140 herds have been infected nationwide since March, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Michigan is offering farms up to $28,000 to entice owners of infected herds to participate in the study. More than a dozen farms have already expressed interest, the state said.

Separately, the federal government offers financial assistance. Twelve of the 21 herds registered for USDA financial assistance are in Michigan, according to the agency.

To increase testing, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has launched a voluntary program in which U.S. farmers can test milk tankers weekly for avian flu. Six farmers in six states have each registered one herd, but the Michigan farmer has not yet joined them.

“I would love to see this in every herd,” said Zelmar Rodriguez, a dairy veterinarian at Michigan State University who studies the infections.

“New threat”

The Michigan Department of Agriculture said it has up to 200 people responding to bird flu cases in poultry and cattle, including coordinating with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to investigate outbreaks. Veterinarians in other states said they were tracking cases in Michigan to assess the risk of transmission.

“Michigan does a good job of diagnosing and trying to determine where the disease is,” said Mike Martin, North Carolina’s state veterinarian.

The Michigan outbreak among cows began after an infected Texas farm shipped cattle to Michigan in March before the virus was detected, according to the USDA. Weeks later, a Michigan poultry farm also reported symptoms and tested positive. Whole genome sequencing showed the virus jumped from the dairy farm to the poultry flock.

The USDA now believes the virus was spread indirectly through people and vehicles traveling on and off infected farms.

Chickens owned by Michigan’s largest egg producer, Herbruck’s Poultry Ranch, were infected because the virus spread from cattle, said Nancy Barr, chief executive of Michigan Allied Poultry Industries, an industry group. Reuters first reported Herbruck’s link to transmission from dairy cows.

“This is a new threat to us,” Barr said.

Herbruck’s told the state in May it was laying off about 400 workers after bird flu decimated flocks in Ionia County. The company said in a public notice that it plans to rehire employees while it rebuilds its flocks, a process that could take six months.

As of the end of June, poultry farmers in Ionia County had received $73.2 million in compensation payments from the U.S. government for losses caused by bird flu, according to data obtained by Reuters from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. That’s more than any county in the country that has had to cull infected flocks since February 2022.

the main street

The layoffs have sparked fear in Ionia, a central Michigan town of about 13,000 with a brick-paved Main Street and a Mona Lisa mural. Business owners said the unemployed have less money to spend at a time when local stores are struggling to compete with Walmart and Meijer.

“I just thought, ‘Oh, great, here’s a store,'” said Jennifer Loudenbeck, owner of Downtown Vintage Resale.

Alex Hanulchik, a fresh fruit stand owner, said he knew a Herbruck’s employee who left town after being laid off to look for work in the southern United States.

“I really feel for the staff,” Hanulchik said. “They were stunned.”

Herbruck’s declined to comment.

Dairy farmers say they constantly worry that their cows could be next to become infected, but don’t know exactly how to protect them.

Doug Chapin, a dairy farmer in Remus, Mich., said he has held meetings with employees to educate them about the risks of the virus. He is trying to get workers to wear protective goggles, although they have objected in the past because the goggles need to be cleaned if milk gets on them.

“You think about it all the time,” he said of the virus.

Michigan plans to conduct the nation’s first blood testing of dairy workers for signs of past infections.

The state already tracks bird flu symptoms in thousands of people using a sophisticated contact tracing system that sends them text messages three times a day, said Chad Shaw, an official with the Ionia County Health Department.

However, some farmers remain reluctant to engage with local health authorities.

The Branch-Hillsdale-St. Joseph public health agency has begun reaching out to farms at large to offer medical care to seasonal workers because of bird flu cases, said health officer Rebecca Burns. She said there has been little interest.

“These guys aren’t used to us calling them,” Burns said.

Hard hit

Michigan has the third-largest number of infected dairy herds of any state after Idaho and Colorado, and outbreaks on poultry farms killed 6.5 million chickens in April alone, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

In late April, the Biden administration began requiring dairy cows to test negative before being shipped across state lines.

Michigan went further, requiring farms in May to keep visitor logs, sanitize trucks that could carry the virus, and take other safety measures. This month, the state began requiring negative tests for non-dairy cows to be shown at fairs.

On July 3, Colorado reported the nation’s fourth human case. The U.S. government has awarded Moderna $176 million to develop a vaccine against bird flu for humans.

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said two dozen companies are working on a cattle vaccine after about 140 herds across the country tested positive.

“Michigan has been at the forefront of providing information, providing access to information that is really useful,” Vilsack told Reuters.

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