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University of Nebraska Medical Center

USDA assesses vaccine to protect cattle from bird flu virus

Successful Farming Authorities say bird flu poses a low risk to human health, although it has only recently been found in U.S. cattle.

The Agriculture Department said its research agency “has begun to assess the potential to develop an effective vaccine” against the H5N1 bird flu virus in cattle, although it warned that it is too early to say how long the process would take. The virus has so far infected 29 dairy herds in eight states, though there have been no detections in commercial beef herds since the disease was identified in cattle in late March.

In an updated fact sheet, the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) said that while wild migratory birds are believed to be the original source of the virus, it has been passed from cow to cow in some instances. “Additionally, we have similar evidence that the virus also spread from dairy cattle premises back into nearby poultry facilities through an unknown route.”

Authorities say bird flu poses a low risk to human health, although it has only recently been found in U.S. cattle. A Texas dairy worker was treated for mild symptoms of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI). The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says genetic sequencing of samples from dairy cows and the farmworker showed the H5N1 virus “for the most part lack changes that would make them better adapted to infect mammals.”

The U.S. poultry industry is contending with persistent outbreaks of HPAI that began in early February 2022. To date, 90.7 million birds in domestic flocks, mostly egg-laying hens and turkeys being raised for human consumption, have been culled in attempts to stamp out bird flu. There have been four major outbreaks in April, affecting 8.4 million laying hens.

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