Avian ‘Super Flu’ Infecting America’s Cattle

2024-04-01 08:00:38

We have been following the reports of a super-charged strain of avian flu (i.e., “bird flu) sweeping across the globe. Northern California poultry farms had been hit hard, the elephant seal pup population in Venezuela was wiped out, the first penguin infections were reported, and two people were seriously infected by H5N1 in Cambodia.

Furthermore, research indicates the virus has mutated to target the brains of mammals.

Unfortunately for America’s dairy farmers and cattle ranchers, cases of the avian super flu are being seen among this nation’s cattle.

Milk from dairy cows in Texas and Kansas has tested positive for bird flu, U.S. officials said Monday.

Officials with the Texas Animal Health Commission confirmed the flu virus is the Type A H5N1 strain, known for decades to cause outbreaks in birds and to occasionally infect people. The virus is affecting older dairy cows in those states and in New Mexico, causing decreased lactation and low appetite.

It comes a week after officials in Minnesota announced that goats on a farm where there had been an outbreak of bird flu among poultry were diagnosed with the virus. It’s believed to be the first time bird flu — also known as highly pathogenic avian influenza — was found in U.S. livestock.

Bird flu has also been identified in a Michigan herd.

A herd of cows in Montcalm County have been infected with avian flu.

The cows originally came from Texas on March 17. The first cow got sick on March 20.

The infection will not impact milk supply, the Department said, as pasteurization kills the virus.

“There are measures in place to keep this type of thing from being a threat to the supply. measures both at the farm level in terms of keeping milk from unhealthy cows out of the milk supply but also at the processing level theres a pasteurization process that is keeping the milk safe so we don’t believe this is a threat to the safety of the milk supply,” said Director of the Bureau of Food Safety and Animal Health Tim Slawinski.

Reports are now using a new acronym for this strain of the bird flu: Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI). Cattle in Idaho have also been infected.

Idaho officials announced Thursday that avian flu was detected at a dairy cattle farm in Cassia County after the facility recently imported livestock from another state that had identified HPAI in cows. It did not provide details.

But in an interview, state veterinarian Scott Leibsle said avian flu was detected in the Idaho cattle after the farm imported cows from a Texas herd that had shown symptoms of HPAI.

“Cow-to-cow transmission is definitely playing a role in how this disease progresses. To what extent, we don’t know yet,” Leibsle said. It’s clear that infected wild birds spread the disease to herds in Texas and Kansas, he said. “But the herd of cattle that came up from Texas to Idaho, the birds didn’t follow,” the state veterinarian said.

This is the first time avian flu has been observed in cows.

“We have never seen avian influenza in dairy cows before,” said Erin Supak, director of communications for the animal health commission. “So we’re encouraging best management practices and enhanced biosecurity measures to be put in place and ensure the spread is not going to go farther than it already has.”

The avian flu is deadly to cows, and the infected cattle are expected to recover within a few days.

Experts say livestock appear to recover on their own within seven to 10 days. That’s different than bird flu outbreaks in poultry, which necessitate killing flocks to get rid of the virus.

Since 2022, outbreaks in have led to the loss of about 80 million birds in US commercial flocks. So far, the virus appears to be infecting about 10 percent of lactating dairy cows in the affected herds, said Michael Payne, a food animal veterinarian and and biosecurity expert with the University of California-Davis Western Institute for Food Safety and Security.

The US Department of Agriculture assures everyone the American milk supply is safe.

The USDA assured consumers that “there is no concern about the safety of the commercial milk supply or that this circumstance poses a risk to consumer health.”

“Dairies are required to send only milk from healthy animals into processing for human consumption; milk from impacted animals is being diverted or destroyed so that it does not enter the food supply,” the agency continued.

Plus, pasteurization is a requirement for milk sold in stores, which the agency reminded “has continually proven to inactivate bacteria and viruses, like influenza, in milk.”

Let’s hope these government experts are right, and human infection does not begin to occur in this country.


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