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Bovine TB test results still weeks away

BISMARCK (AP) -- Testing of a southwestern North Dakota cattle herd for bovine tuberculosis has been expanded to include four neighboring herds, and might stretch into late spring or early summer because of bad weather and calving season.

"The weather really, really goofed us up last week," said Dr. Susan Keller, the state veterinarian.

That could mean problems for state wildlife officials who are preparing to kill hundreds of deer and elk if bovine TB is found. Wildlife can pass on the disease to other cattle herds.

"Animals will disperse widely over the landscape during the spring and summer months," said Randy Kreil, wildlife chief for the state Game and Fish Department. "They're concentrated during the winter months, which would actually make the job of finding them, killing them and testing them easier."

The cattle are being tested after a cow with a TB lesion was found at a meat processing plant in Long Prairie, Minn., late last year. The cow was traced back to a cattle herd in southwestern North Dakota that officials have not identified.

The herd of more than 200 animals has been quarantined, with any movement of cattle requiring the approval of the state Board of Animal Health.

Initial screening, which involved an injection at the base of the tail, turned up 28 "suspect" cows. They were killed so more definitive testing could be done at the National Veterinary Services Laboratory in Ames, Iowa. The Iowa lab was the one that confirmed the diagnosis in the cow with bovine TB.

Keller said she does not expect results until the end of the month from the other animals.

The suspect herd also underwent a second live test that is required because of the potential incubation period of the bacteria, Keller said. The second round of testing did not turn up any more suspect cows, she said.

Live tests also are being done on older animals in four neighboring cattle herds, at the direction of the federal Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. Those herds, which have about 600 animals, are not quarantined.

Keller said officials hope to finish the testing by early March, but the calving season getting under way might delay it further.

North Dakota has been deemed "TB-free" for 33 years.

A state must have at least two herds test positive for the disease within two years to lose its "TB-free" status. The last time a North Dakota cow herd tested positive for bovine TB was in 1999, in Morton County. That herd was destroyed.