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Bird flu detected in U.S. dairy cattle for first time

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For the first time in the United States, dairy cattle have fallen victim to the widespread bird flu outbreak, according to reports from multiple U.S. agencies. The U.S. Department of Agriculture, Food and Drug Administration, and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have confirmed the presence of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) in dairy cows across several states. The outbreak underscores the importance of consuming pasteurized dairy products to mitigate health risks.

The confirmation of bird flu in dairy cattle followed testing of sick animals from farms in Kansas and Texas. These tests revealed positive results for HPAI, a virus that has been devastating bird populations in Europe and Asia since August 2020. The American Veterinary Medical Association noted that this marks the first instance of bird flu affecting dairy cows in the country, following recent detections in goats in Minnesota and polar bears, as well as marine animals.

Concerns were raised after dairy cows exhibited symptoms such as decreased lactation and low appetite. Milk samples from affected farms in Kansas and Texas tested positive for the virus, with additional cases identified in Michigan, New Mexico, Idaho, and Texas. While the primary mode of transmission is typically through infected birds, authorities cannot rule out transmission between cattle based on reported symptoms and test results.

Despite the decline in milk production among affected cattle, authorities assure the public that the impact on milk supply is currently limited. They anticipate no significant impact on milk prices or dairy product availability, particularly given the seasonal increase in milk production during spring. Additionally, all commercial milk products undergo pasteurization to eliminate harmful microorganisms, including influenza viruses.

Authorities emphasize that milk from affected animals is diverted or destroyed to prevent contamination of the human food supply. Pasteurization effectively neutralizes bacteria and viruses present in milk, ensuring its safety for consumption. Raw milk consumption poses inherent health risks, and consumers are reminded of the dangers associated with unpasteurized dairy products in light of the HPAI detections.

The detection of bird flu in cattle comes amid recent challenges faced by Texas cattle ranchers, including the state’s largest-ever wildfire. Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller expressed determination to uphold agricultural standards amidst these unprecedented challenges. While the risk of bird flu transmission to humans remains low, federal and state agencies continue to monitor the situation closely and conduct further testing to understand the evolving threat posed by HPAI.

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