Dairy Cows Must Be Tested for Bird Flu Before Moving Between States: USDA

Zachary Stieber
By Zachary Stieber
April 24, 2024US News
Dairy Cows Must Be Tested for Bird Flu Before Moving Between States: USDA
Cows are seen at a dairy in California on Nov. 23, 2016. (Rich Pedroncelli/AP Photo)

Dairy cows cannot be moved between states without testing for the highly pathogenic avian influenza, U.S. officials announced on April 24.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) issued a federal order that says “prior to interstate movement, dairy cattle are required to receive a negative test for Influenza A virus.”

A strain of the highly pathogenic avian influenza A, H5N1, has been spreading across the country since first being detected in cows in March. The influenza is commonly known as the bird flu.

At this point, no beef cattle are known to have been infected with the virus.

The order, which takes effect on April 29, covers lactating dairy cattle.

Testing requirements for other dairy cows “will be based on scientific factors concerning the virus and its evolving risk profile,” the USDA said.

The testing must be done by an approved National Animal Health Laboratory Network lab.

Positive flu tests will prohibit cows from being moved for 30 days and until they test negative, USDA officials said.

Owners of herds that contain cows that test positive will be required to provide epidemiological information to authorities, including information on where the cows have been, authorities said.

Testing of cows for the bird flu has to present only been done on a voluntary basis. Farmers had been directed to only test cows displaying symptoms, such as decreased appetite.

Avian influenza was detected in cows for the first time in March.

As of Wednesday, 33 herds across eight states, including Kansas, New Mexico, and Texas, have tested positive for the bird flu.

Some states had already imposed restrictions on interstate movement of cattle in light of the situation.

The USDA is also mandating that labs and state veterinarians report positive Influenza A test results from livestock to the agency.

The flu had been circulating in birds domestically before infecting cattle and goats.

The steps came after the USDA said the virus has spread between cows, including cows that have not shown symptoms.

“The novel movement of H5N1 between wild birds and dairy cows requires further testing and time to develop a critical understanding to support any future courses of action,” the USDA said in a statement. “This federal order is critical to increasing the information available for USDA. Requiring positive test reporting will help USDA better under this disease and testing before interstate movement will limit its spread.”

One person was confirmed this year to have contracted the bird flu after being in close contact with sickened cows in Texas. That person was recovering, authorities said in the last update on the case. Another person previously became ill with the flu in Colorado but eventually recovered.

Authorities say the risk to the public is low and testing of the flu samples has uncovered no signs that the virus has changed to make it more transmissible to people or among people.

Bird flu cases have rarely appeared among humans in the United States but hundreds have been confirmed worldwide since 2003. Through April 1, out of 889 cases across 23 countries, 463 resulted in death, according to the World Health Organization.

Jeremy Farrar, the organization’s chief scientist, said recently the spread to ruminants raised concerns that the virus could develop the ability to transmit between humans.

If that happens, then it’s crucial to quickly respond with vaccines, testing, and treatments, he said.

Several vaccines against H5N1 have already been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) but manufacturers would need to receive fresh clearance for updated formulations, an agency spokesperson told The Epoch Times in an email.

The manufacturers, Sanofi, GlaxoSmithKline, and CSL Seqirus said in statements they are monitoring avian flu and stand ready to develop avian influenza vaccines as needed.

There have so far been few deaths among cows that tested positive for the influenza, according to the USDA. Some have already been cleared and started producing milk again for commercial consumption.

The FDA on Tuesday said it detected bird flu in milk from grocery store shelves but that it would be running additional experiments to see if samples from the milk contained intact pathogens and remained infectious.

For now, pasteurized milk is safe “based on the information we currently have available,” USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack told reporters.

He disclosed that the samples that tested positive came from cows without symptoms.

The USDA has carried out more than 2,000 tests on cattle samples over the last several weeks, Mr. Vilsack said.

“It surely is possible that there could be much more virus infection in cows throughout the United States,” said Dr. Michael Osterholm, an infectious disease expert at the University of Minnesota.

Bird flu was initially confirmed in raw milk from cows with the virus and authorities had claimed no milk with the influenza would enter the food supply due to measures such as pasteurization.

Regulators declined to say from which states or states the milk that tested positive came.

Reuters contributed to this report.

From The Epoch Times

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