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Rock Island County Health Department and Farm Bureau offer PPE for farmers as H5N1 cases rise across the nation

Rock Island County Public Health Department Sanitarian for the Environmental Division Meghan Carr says farmers can contact them and their local farm bureau to request PPE to prevent the spread of H5N1.
Brady Johnson
/
WVIK News
Rock Island County Public Health Department Sanitarian for the Environmental Division Meghan Carr says farmers can contact them and their local farm bureau to request PPE to prevent the spread of H5N1.

The Rock Island County Health Department (RIPHD) is working with the Illinois Department of Public Health and the non-profit Illinois Farm Bureau to offer PPE to farmers who work with cattle and poultry.

RIPHD Sanitarian for the Environmental Health Division Meghan Carr spoke with WVIK last week about H5N1 cases, tic removal, and other topics.

PPE to prevent H5N1 transmission in Illinois farms

Carr says the county health department supplies Personal Protective Equipment to area farmers who contact their local Farm Bureau.

"The Department of Public Health wants to provide protective equipment for farmers that are working on dairy farms and that are working with cattle," Carr said in an interview with WVIK. "They're instructed to contact the Rock Island County Farm Bureau if they would like protective equipment. Our role is backing up the farm bureau; we actually have extra supplies that if their request isn't getting to them fast enough, shipping delays, or whatnot, we can provide that equipment to them."

The PPE consists of goggles, face shields, vinyl gloves, N95 masks, polyethylene aprons and Tyvek suits.

"I also read where the goggles are non-vented, and that's to protect from splashes of milk," Carr said.

There have been no detections of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) in Illinois. On the other side of the Mississippi River in Iowa, there are currently 14 cases of HPAI on dairy and poultry farms.

Carr says the IDPH reached out asking for a list of local licensed veterinarians to participate in a reporting program for domestic cats.

So far this year, over 21 cats nationwide caught the virus and, in many cases, died from their infection. In most instances, the cats were on farms drinking raw milk while others were found eating dead birds or mammals.

Carr says the Rock Island County Health Department is also accepting dead birds.

"If you come across a bird that is already deceased, you can actually bring it in, and we'll send it to IDPH," Carr said. "That is part of our West Nile surveillance program, but I'm wondering, with this new virus, they would also be interested in that." Carr says they don't send large birds to IDPH.

WVIK contacted the Rock Island Farm Bureau about the number of requests for PPE. Bureau Manager Tara Mayhew says they haven't received any requests as of today, June 27. Mayhew says the Farm Bureau has a little over 5,000 active members, with around 550 being area farmers.

West Nile Surveillance

Carr says the RIPHD has numerous mosquito traps around Rock Island County for virus surveillance.

"It's basically this really stinky water that we make out of rabbit food; it smells awful, but mosquitos love it," Carr said. "There is a little fan that sucks up the mosquitos into this net apparatus, so the intern checks the traps every day and collects the traps and takes them back to the lab."

Carr says they make a mosquito "slurry" and utilize an on-site machine that tests for West Nile. According to the IDPH, West Nile is prevalent later in the summer but 13 counties so far have positive mosquitos.

New Tick Surveillance Program

"A new program we have this year, we got a grant for a tick surveillance program, so not only are we looking at West Nile virus but now we can monitor for Lyme disease and other diseases that ticks might carry," Carr said.

Recently, the RIPHD dragged for ticks at Black Hawk Park.

"Basically it consists of a flannel tarp that we drag through the vegetation in a wooded area," Carr said. "Every 20 meters, we check for ticks and collect them; we ship them off to IDPH to be identified."

According to Carr, they collected over 20 ticks, and she was surprised at how small they were.

"They were probably the size of a sesame seed or smaller," Carr said. "We sent them. They were deer ticks... they're more susceptible to carrying Lyme disease."

Carr says they are still waiting for the IDPH report on whether any tested positive for Lyme disease or other diseases.

"I would suggest that if you are hiking or out in grassy areas...wear long pants, tape your ankles, wear long-sleeved shirts, and wear a hat," Carr said. She recommends checking yourself and your pets within 24 hours, as that's the time it takes for a tick to burrow.

Tuesday, June 25, update: Meghan Carr shared a linkwith WVIK that displays a map of known tick populations throughout the state.

Brady is a 2021 Augustana College graduate majoring in Multimedia Journalism-Mass Communication and Political Science. Over the last eight years, he has reported in central Illinois at various media outlets, including The Peoria Journal Star, WCBU Peoria Public Radio, Advanced Media Partners, and WGLT Bloomington-Normal's Public Media.