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Capitol Letters: Avian influenza detected in Kansas, Texas dairy cattle

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On Monday, March 25, the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship issued a press release in which Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig commented on the announcement made by the United States Department of Agriculture regarding the detection of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza in dairy cattle in Texas and Kansas: “Our team is actively monitoring this evolving situation regarding the news that dairy cattle in Texas and Kansas have tested positive for highly pathogenic avian influenza. We are communicating with USDA, other states and industry stakeholders while we learn more and as there are new developments. Protecting Iowa’s livestock farmers from foreign animal disease has been and will continue to be one of my top priorities as Secretary.”

Report sick cattle

We are strongly encouraging industry partners, farmers and veterinarians to report cattle illnesses quickly to the IDALS at 515-281-5305 so that we can monitor any potential cases.

Food safety

At this stage, USDA believes that there is no concern about the safety of the commercial milk supply or that this circumstance poses a risk to consumer health. Dairies are required to send only milk from healthy animals into processing for human consumption. Milk from impacted animals is diverted or destroyed so that it does not enter the food supply. In addition, pasteurization has continually proven to inactivate bacteria and viruses, like influenza, in milk. Pasteurization is required for any milk entering interstate commerce.

THE NEXT DAY, it was reported that avian influenza has spread to goat kids in Minnesota in a yard that was next to a farm that was being depopulated because of avian influenza outbreak. In that case, a backyard farm included fowl and goats that shared the same drinking receptacle. It is believed that is how the disease was transmitted. In this case the ill goat kid has relatively naïve immune symptom. The National Veterinary Services Laboratories later confirmed H5N1 HPAI, which is the same virus circulating in the national outbreak that began in 2022. Samples from the adult goats were negative for HPAI and all appear healthy; no more sick goat kids have been reported since March 11, 2024. 

The United States Department of Agriculture Animal Plant Health Inspection Service also issued a press release on this issue:

“As of Monday, March 25, 2024, unpasteurized, clinical samples of milk from sick cattle collected from two dairy farms in Kansas and one in Texas, as well as an oropharyngeal swab from another dairy in Texas, have tested positive for highly pathogenic avian influenza. Additional testing was initiated on Friday, March 22, and over the weekend because farms have also reported finding deceased wild birds on their properties. Based on findings from Texas, the detections appear to have been introduced by wild birds. Initial testing by the National Veterinary Services Laboratories has not found changes to the virus that would make it more transmissible to humans, which would indicate that the current risk to the public remains low.

Federal and state agencies are moving quickly to conduct additional testing. At this stage, there is no concern about the safety of the commercial milk supply or that this circumstance poses a risk to consumer health. Dairies are required to send only milk from healthy animals into processing for human consumption; milk from impacted animals is being diverted or destroyed so that it does not enter the food supply. In addition, pasteurization has continually proven to inactivate bacteria and viruses, like influenza, in milk. Pasteurization is required for any milk entering interstate commerce.

Federal agencies are also working with state and industry partners to encourage farmers and veterinarians to report cattle illnesses quickly so that we can monitor potential additional cases and minimize the impact to farmers, consumers and other animals. For the dairies whose herds are exhibiting symptoms, on average about ten percent of each affected herd appears to be impacted, with little to no associated mortality reported among the animals. Milk loss resulting from symptomatic cattle to date is too limited to have a major impact on supply and there should be no impact on the price of milk or other dairy products. This is a rapidly evolving situation, and USDA and federal and state partners will continue to share additional updates as soon as information becomes available.”

IOWA’S RECENT significant investment in Foreign Animal Disease program at IDALS should have created a good foundation to deal with this evolving situation. The state has held annual practices to deal with catastrophic animal disease, which to note the current avian influenza (H5N1 HPAI) outbreak for nonavian species in not yet a major crisis, but livestock producers should be implementing heightened biosecurity practices at this point. It should also be noted that in the last year, detection of the H5N1 HPAI has been increasingly detected in a growing number of mammal animals. In Iowa it has been detected in red foxes and possum. In nearby states, that list grows to include cats and dogs, bobcats, raccoons, skunks, and coyotes. On the nation’s coasts, the disease has shown up in seals, dolphins, grizzly and kodiak bears. This suggests that transmission is apt to come from scavenging and depredation of ill fowl by the carnivorous mammals.

Please feel free to contact me anytime. During the legislative session, I can be reached at megan.jones@legis.iowa.gov and (515) 991-7337.

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