Over Half of Cats at Texas Dairy Farm Die After Consuming Raw Milk Contaminated with Bird Flu

A bird flu outbreak on a Texas dairy farm killed over 12 domestic cats that consumed infected raw milk, raising concerns about cross-species transmission. The incident marks the first time veterinarians have linked illness in cats to exposure to infected raw milk.

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Nitish Verma
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Deadly Bird Flu Outbreak: Over 12 Cats Die on Texas Dairy Farm

Deadly Bird Flu Outbreak: Over 12 Cats Die on Texas Dairy Farm

A devastating outbreak of bird flu has claimed the lives of more than 12 domestic cats on a Texas dairy farm, raising alarming concerns about the cross-species transmission of the highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) H5N1 virus. The cats, which made up over half of the farm's feline population, fell ill and died after consuming raw milk from infected cows.

Why this matters: The incident highlights the potential for bird flu to spread to other mammals, posing a significant threat to animal and human health. The incident highlights the potential for bird flu to spread to other mammals, posing a significant threat to animal and human health. It is imperative that measures be taken to prevent transmission and protect public health.

The incident, described in a report published in the Emerging Infectious Diseases journal, marks the first time veterinarians have linked illness in cats to exposure to infected raw milk. Dr. Eric Burrough, who led the investigation, stated,"HPAI virus infection should be considered in dairy cattle when an unexpected and unexplained abrupt drop in feed intake and milk production occurs and for cats when rapid onset of neurologic signs and blindness develop."

The infected cats exhibited horrific symptoms, including depressed mental states, body stiffness, loss of coordination, blindness, circling, and excessive mucous from their eyes and noses. Post-mortem examinations revealed that the virus had reached the cats' lungs, brains, hearts, and eyes, with some animals succumbing to the disease just two days after falling ill.

While the risk of human infection with bird flu remains low, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warns that it is possible, especially with prolonged and unprotected exposure to infected animals. The CDC cautions, "While it's unlikely that people would become infected with bird flu viruses through contact with an infected wild, stray, feral or domestic cat, it is possible — especially if there is prolonged and unprotected exposure to the animal."

The Texas farm outbreak also affected six cows, with three being euthanized and three others dying from the illness. Testing confirmed that all the animals were infected with the same strain of H5N1 bird flu responsible for the recent death of a dolphin in Florida. The virus has surged in cows and chickens across the United States, with animals on 29 farms across eight states falling victim, according to CDC reports.

In response to the growing concern, a new federal directive requires dairy cattle traveling between states to undergo bird flu testing to track and control the outbreak. Michael Watson from the Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service stated, "We believe we can do tens of thousands of tests a day."

The ongoing severe bird flu epidemic, spread by wild birds, continues to intensify. The virus has led to the death or culling of over 90 million birds in U.S. commercial flocks. Since the outbreak began, two farmworkers in the U.S. have contracted bird flu. Health officials have tested 23 people for the virus and are currently monitoring 44 individuals who were exposed to infected animals.

The discovery of high viral loads in the milk of infected cows has raised questions about the infectiousness of raw dairy products and the risk of virus transmission to other mammals on farms. Dr. Drew Magstadt, a cattle disease researcher at Iowa State University Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory, noted, "In nasal secretions, blood, feces, and urine, we can find an occasional positive, but those positives are at levels that are almost undetectable."

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has detected fragments of the virus in the nation's commercial milk supply, despite milk from sick cows being barred from distribution. However, the FDA confirmed that pasteurization inactivates the virus, and tests of milk, cottage cheese, and sour cream did not detect any live infectious virus. The agency strongly warns against consuming raw milk.

The devastating impact of the bird flu outbreak on the Texas dairy farm and the loss of numerous cats serves as a harsh wake-up call about the virus's ability to cross species barriers. As surveillance efforts intensify and research continues, it is essential for the public to remain vigilant, avoid consuming raw dairy products, and take necessary precautions when in contact with potentially infected animals.

Key Takeaways

  • Bird flu outbreak kills 12 domestic cats on a Texas dairy farm.
  • Cats died after consuming raw milk from infected cows.
  • Incident highlights potential for bird flu to spread to other mammals.
  • Raw milk consumption poses risk of virus transmission to humans.
  • Pasteurization inactivates the virus, making commercial milk safe.