Free tuberculosis screenings for dairy farm workers in Sauk County will start as soon as enough farms get on board.
Sauk County Health Department is trying to get the word out about “Sauk County: Partners in Health,” a new program that also offers free tuberculosis education, risk assessments and follow-up care if necessary.
Compeer Financial of Prairie du Sac in February awarded the department with a $10,000 grant for the new program that officially ends in February 2020.
“We started our outreach in March, but we’ve received only one response so far,” public health nurse Diana Haley said. “We really need to get going on this.”
Bovine tuberculosis was discovered on a Dane County farm that’s been quarantined since October, spurring Dane County to start a similar program and Sauk County to then follow suit, Haley said.
“We’re just across the river from them,” Haley said of the quarantined farm in Waunakee. “Dairy farmers in our area had been reaching out to their veterinarians because they were concerned, and it got us thinking.”
The program is being done in collaboration with nursing students from Edgewood College, whom Haley said will be available for farm visits throughout the summer.
Haley is hoping to schedule at least 10 visits at different dairy farms this summer and into the fall once more of them learn about the program.
Tuberculosis is a bacterial infection that can be transmitted between humans and mainly dairy cows, but sometimes involves other animals like deer, goats, swine and more, Haley said. The most common way to contract it is by eating or drinking contaminated dairy products including unpasteurized milk. Drinking unpasteurized milk is a common practice in countries including Mexico, the native country of many dairy farm workers in Sauk County
Tuberculosis is either active or latent, with the latent form of it being more common, Haley said.
But the latent form of tuberculosis can convert to an active form of the infection, at any time, if the body gets stressed. “Tuberculosis is treatable, but it can be a very serious illness,” Haley said of the sometimes deadly infection. “Treatment for it is elaborate and very costly.”
“I think the (farming) industry ought to be requiring their employees to get tested for TB just like health care workers would be, but there’s nothing mandated whatsoever,” Haley said regarding the importance of the new program. “(Tuberculosis) can be extremely costly for farmers when their cattle get infected.”
In the same farm visits, the health department hopes to also give routine immunizations for conditions including the measles, tetanus and chicken pox. If these visits happen in the fall, the department might also offer vaccines for the flu. The department is looking to secure extra funding for such vaccines, Haley said.
Keith Poulsen, the director of the Wisconsin Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory in Madison, will serve as the Sauk County Health Department’s veterinary consultant for the program and coordinates the Badger Partners in Health and Safety Program that provides the same services in Dane County.
It’s an easy program to support, Poulsen said. “I’m excited about it because it gets us out on these farms, providing basic health screenings for migrant workers and the under-served.
“We live in a global economy. Workers come from all over the world and in different parts of world are different diseases like TB. The dairy industry is very much a global workforce, and these (services) are basic precautions to improve the health of the workers and the dairy herd.”
For more information about the program, call the Sauk County Health Department at 608-355-3290.