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South Dakota dairy farm culls cows after avian bird flu infection

Dan Charles/NPR
File photo.

State officials say several dairy cows in one South Dakota herd had to be culled after failing to recover from the avian flu.

This comes as the virus spreads to some dairy workers in other parts of the country.

According to the United States Department of Agriculture, the avian flu has infected dairy cows in more than 80 herds across ten states.

In South Dakota, a large dairy operation slaughtered a dozen cows that did not recover from the virus, according to Russ Daly, a State Public Health Veterinarian professor with South Dakota State University Extension. Another dozen were killed after contracting secondary infections born from the virus.

Daly said the virus affects cows differently.

“One of the interesting things with this virus is normally, and in other species, the influenza virus, or the flu virus, affects our respiratory track. In cows, it seems to be affecting the udders, or the milk-producing apparatus of the cow. So as a result there’s a lot of virus coming out in the milk,” said Daly.   

He said due to these factors, dairy farms need to do more to protect their workers.

“This is a good time to double down on worker protection, right? Making sure we’re wearing masks or maybe face shields; we don’t want milk splashing around and splashing in your eye or your nasal cavities for example. That’s not something that farms had to worry about before this thing. So, a lot of education has taken place in that regard,” said Daly.

Daly said across the nation only three people have been confirmed to have contracted the virus from cattle. None of these cases are in South Dakota.

The USDA said no signs of the virus have been found in sampled retail stores.

The department conducted an experiment by injecting ground beef with a virus. After being cooked passed medium to well-done the virus was not found.

The USDA recommends depopulation for poultry infected with the avian flu. For livestock, Daly said a majority of cows will get better through treatment much like their human counterparts.

Evan Walton is an SDPB reporter based in Sioux Falls. Evan holds a Master’s in English Literature from Southern New Hampshire University and was honorably discharged from the United States Army in 2015, where he served for five years as an infantryman.