Avian flu affects dairy cattle in Texas, Kansas: What you need to know

Avian flu affects dairy cattle in Texas, Kansas: What you need to know
Avian flu affects dairy cattle in Texas, Kansas: What you need to know

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Sick dairy cattle in two central US states have tested positive for bird flu, federal officials said.

As of Monday, highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) virus was detected in unpasteurized clinical samples of milk from sick cows at two dairy farms in Kansas and one in Texas, plus a swab from a dairy cow in Texas, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced in a statement for news.

The agency said its officials, along with the Food and Drug Administration, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and state veterinary and public health authorities, are investigating an illness found primarily in older dairy cows in those states as well as in New Mexico .

Wild migratory birds are believed to be the source of the infection, the USDA said, and virus testing and epidemiological efforts are continuing this week.

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Farms in Texas, Kansas reported finding dead birds on property

Additional testing was conducted Friday and over the weekend, the USDA said, as farms also reported finding dead wild birds on their properties.

Based on findings from Texas, the agency wrote in the release, the detections appear to have been introduced by wild birds and the commercial milk supply «remains safe due to both federal animal health requirements and pasteurization.»

The risk of bird flu spreading to humans is low, the USDA says

Initial tests by National Veterinary Service laboratories have not found changes in the virus that would make it more transmissible to humans, the USDA said, meaning the risk to the public of contracting the virus remains low for now.

Federal and state agencies said they are «moving quickly» to conduct additional bird flu testing.

«The first detection of HPAI in dairy cattle in Texas and Kansas underscores the importance of following biosecurity measures, being vigilant in disease surveillance, and getting your veterinarian involved immediately when something looks ‘not right,'» American Veterinary Medical Association President Dr. Rena Carlson I said. «A complete evaluation, including the collection and submission of laboratory samples and reporting to state animal health officials when appropriate and timely, is extremely important.»

Bird flu in Texas, Kansas affects older dairy cows

The Texas Animal Health Commission has confirmed that the influenza virus is a type A H5N1 strain that has been known for decades to cause outbreaks in birds and occasionally infect humans.

The virus, the state agency said, is affecting older dairy cows in Texas and Kansas as well as cattle in New Mexico, causing symptoms including reduced lactation and poor appetite.

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What is bird flu?

Avian influenza is a disease caused by a family of influenza viruses transmitted primarily among birds.

Avian influenza viruses, according to the CDC and USDA, are classified into two groups: low pathogenic avian influenza (LPAI) (common in wild birds) and HPAI, found primarily in poultry. According to the Center for Disease Control, LPAI viruses cause mild or no disease, and HPAIs cause severe disease and high mortality in infected birds.

Bird flu has cost the government an estimated $660 million and has recently driven up egg and poultry prices. At least 58 million birds were slaughtered last year to limit the spread of the virus.

What are the signs of bird flu?

Symptoms of bird flu include:

  • Loss of appetite, lethargy.
  • Death without preceding symptoms.
  • Swelling of the eyelids.
  • Torsion of the head and neck.
  • Purple discoloration of parts of the body, including the legs.

«No worries» about the safety of commercial milk supplies

«At this point,» the USDA wrote, «there is no concern about the safety of the commercial milk supply or that this circumstance poses a health risk to consumers.»

Dairies are required to send milk from healthy animals for processing before it can be placed on grocery shelves, the agency said, and milk from sick animals is destroyed.

In addition, USDA officials said pasteurization «has been consistently shown to inactivate bacteria and viruses,» including influenza, in milk.

It is also required for milk entering interstate commerce.

«For dairies whose herds exhibit symptoms, an average of about ten percent of each affected herd appears to be affected, with little or no associated mortality reported among animals,» the USDA wrote in its release. «Milk loss resulting from symptomatic cattle is too limited to date to have a major impact on supply and should not have an impact on the price of milk or other dairy products.»

Natalie Neissa Alund is a senior reporter for USA TODAY. Contact her at nalund@usatoday.com and follow her at X @nataliealund.

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