HPAI discovered in Texas, Kansas and Michigan dairy herds, public health risk remains low

A mysterious disease has been working its way through the Texas Panhandle, puzzling the agriculture industry. Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller received confirmation from the United States Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack, and the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) that the mystery disease has been identified as a strain of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) commonly known as bird flu. To date, three dairies in Texas and one in Kansas have tested positive for HPAI. The Texas Department of Agriculture (TDA) is vigilantly monitoring this outbreak.

“This presents yet another hurdle for our agriculture sector in the Texas Panhandle,” Miller said. “Protecting Texas producers and the safety of our food supply chain is my top priority. The Texas Department of Agriculture will use every resource available to maintain the high standards of quality and safety that define Texas agriculture.”

The Texas dairy industry contributes roughly $50 billion in economic activity across the state. Texas also ranks fourth in milk production nationwide and continues to be a key player in the dairy industry. Commissioner Miller wants to assure consumers that rigorous safety measures and pasteurization protocols ensure that dairy products remain unaffected by HPAI. The Texas dairy industry maintains strict standards to ensure the safety of every product.

“There is no threat to the public and there will be no supply shortages,” Miller said. “No contaminated milk is known to have entered the food chain; it has all been dumped. In the rare event that some affected milk enters the food chain, the pasteurization process will kill the virus.”

Cattle impacted by HPAI exhibit flu-like symptoms including fever and thick and discolored milk accompanied by a sharp reduction in milk production averaging between 10-30 pounds per cow throughout the herd. Economic impacts to facilities are ongoing as herds that are greatly impacted may lose up to 40% of their milk production for 7 to 10 days until symptoms subside. It is vital that dairy facilities nationwide practice heightened biosecurity measures to mitigate further spread.

Texas dairies are strongly advised to use all standard biosecurity measures including restricting access to essential personnel only, disinfecting all vehicles entering and leaving premises, isolating affected cattle, and destroying all contaminated milk. Additionally, it is important to clean and disinfect all livestock watering devices and isolate drinking water where it might be contaminated by waterfowl. Farmers are asked to notify their herd veterinarian if they suspect any cattle within their herd are displaying symptoms of this condition.

“Unlike affected poultry, I foresee there will be no need to depopulate dairy herds,” Miller said. “Cattle are expected to fully recover. The Texas Department of Agriculture is committed to providing unwavering support to our dairy industry.”

Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) has also been identified in a Michigan dairy cow herd, linked to its recent discovery in a Texas dairy herd. The latest herd is located northeast of Grand Rapids in Montcalm County, MI.

The announcement from the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development  (MDARD) brings the total known states with HPAI in dairy cattle to three, with Michigan joining detected cases in Texas and Kansas.

In a press release, MDARD said the farm in question recently received cattle from an affected premises in Texas before that herd showed any sign of disease. When the cattle were moved from Texas to Michigan, the cattle were not symptomatic and did not appear ill.

“This case does reflect a lot of what is already known about this virus—namely, that it is highly contagious, it continues to be primarily spread by wild birds and contact with infected animals, and mammals can contract the virus,” said Michigan’s State Veterinarian Dr. Nora Wineland, DVM, MS, DACVPM. “MDARD is working diligently and in close collaboration with government partners, producer groups, and Michigan dairy farmers to address the situation and prevent the spread of disease. As more is learned, it is vitally important for producers to work with their veterinarian and isolate sick animals from others, minimize the number of visitors to their farms, prevent contact between their animals and wildlife, and continue to vigilantly monitor the health of their animals.”

To limit the spread of the disease, the affected premises voluntarily stopped movement. Producers who have concerns about the health of their animals and/or questions regarding how to improve the measures they take to protect animal health on their farm should contact their veterinarian. Also, if cattle producers notice decreased lactation, low appetite, and/or other symptoms in their herds, please contact your veterinarian to determine the next appropriate steps to take.

Analysis of the virus from this case and the other cases of affected cattle has not shown any significant new adaptation to make the virus more transmissible between mammals. Therefore, the public health risk associated with HPAI remains low.

According to the Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease and Prevention, the commercial milk supply remains safe due to both federal animal health requirements and pasteurization.

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