Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza Detected in 32 U.S. Cattle Herds, Raising Concerns in Canada

Highly pathogenic avian influenza detected in U.S. cattle herds, raising concerns about potential spread to humans. Experts stress pasteurized milk is safe, as the process kills any potential pathogens.

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Bijay Laxmi
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Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza Detected in 32 U.S. Cattle Herds, Raising Concerns in Canada

Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza Detected in 32 U.S. Cattle Herds, Raising Concerns in Canada

Highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) has been detected in 32 cattle herds across 8 U.S. states as of April 2024, raising concerns among Canadian farmers. However, there have been no confirmed cases of HPAI in Canada yet, according to experts.

The outbreak in the U.S. has resulted in the loss of more than 6 million birds in Michigan alone. HPAI has been detected in multiple states and has also been found in mammals, further raising concerns about the spread of the virus. The HPAI virus, which primarily affects birds and poultry, has also been known to infect mammals, including humans.

Health officials are urging people to take precautions and consume only pasteurized milk, as the virus has been detected in raw milk for the first time in the U.S. Experts stress that properly pasteurized milk is safe to drink, as the pasteurization process effectively kills any potential pathogens.

Why this matters: The detection of HPAI in U.S. cattle herds has significant implications for the agricultural industry and public health. The potential spread of the virus to other species, including humans, underscores the need for heightened biosecurity measures and vigilance in monitoring the situation.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is investigating an illness among primarily older dairy cows in Texas, Kansas, and New Mexico that farmers had dubbed 'mystery cow disease'. Milk collected from sick cows in Kansas and Texas tested positive for the H5N1 strain of avian influenza. While the situation is being closely monitored, federal officials have stressed that there is 'no concern' of greater risk to consumer health, and that pasteurization has been proven to inactivate the virus in milk.

Experts have expressed concern that the virus may be transmitting between cattle, which could signal further changes in the virus that could potentially affect other species, including humans. The USDA has confirmed that cow-to-cow transmission is a factor, but the exact mechanism is unclear.

While the outbreak has been limited to the U.S. so far, experts warn that if HPAI H5N1 can spillover to cows, it could potentially happen in other regions as well. There are concerns about the consumption of raw milk, which is more prevalent in the U.S. compared to Europe. Experts are still investigating the unknowns around HPAI's spillover into cattle, and there are worries that the virus could potentially spread to domestic pigs, which could increase the risk of a human pandemic.

The USDA has uploaded a large number of genetic sequences of the H5N1 bird flu virus detected in dairy cows to help assess if the virus has acquired mutations that could make it easier to spread to and among mammals. "APHIS is rapidly sharing this raw sequence data to the National Institute of Health's National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, in the interest of public transparency and to encourage disease research and development to benefit the U.S. dairy industry," the APHIS National Veterinary Services Laboratories stated.

Despite the HPAI spread, the pasteurized milk

Key Takeaways

  • HPAI detected in 32 U.S. cattle herds, raising concerns in Canada
  • HPAI outbreak in U.S. has led to loss of over 6 million birds
  • HPAI found in raw milk, but pasteurized milk is safe to consume
  • USDA investigating 'mystery cow disease' linked to H5N1 avian flu
  • USDA sharing genetic data to assess virus mutations and spread