June 11, 2024


US agencies plan research into bird flu spread among dairy cattle


US federal and state agencies are initiating research into the potential respiratory spread of bird flu among dairy cattle, aiming to understand the virus's transmission pathways and mitigate its impact on both animals and humans, according to an interview with Michigan state agriculture and public health officials, Reuters reported.


The investigation intends to provide insights into containing the virus and minimizing human exposure. Researchers and officials are concerned that respiratory transmission could facilitate the virus's evolution, potentially posing greater risks.


Initial suspicions suggested that the virus spreads among animals and humans through contact with infected milk or aerosolized droplets. The Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, in collaboration with Michigan State University and the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), is spearheading research efforts on farms to assess respiratory transmission, according to Dr Tim Boring, the department's director.


Dr Boring emphasised the significance of this research, stating that it's a top priority and will play a crucial role in shaping public policy in the state. Concurrently, the USDA, along with partner universities nationwide, is conducting research on respiratory infections in dairy cows to comprehend the virus better and control its dissemination.


Since late March, bird flu has been detected in over 80 dairy herds across 11 states. The precise mechanics of the virus's spread remain unclear, although evidence suggests transmission from wild birds and among cattle. Dr Zelmar Rodriguez, a dairy veterinarian and assistant professor at Michigan State University, noted that the virus has been primarily identified in milk, with traces found in nasal swabs, indicating potential airborne transmission.


Dr Richard Webby, a virologist at St Jude Children's Research Hospital, underscored the concern that any alteration in the virus's transmission mode could foster its evolution. However, for the virus to pose a significant threat to human health, it would require further genetic mutations.


The third dairy worker to contract avian flu, residing in Michigan, exhibited respiratory symptoms, including coughing, likely attributed to close contact with infected milk through splashes or aerosolized droplets. However, the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) maintains that bird flu remains a low risk to the public, with no evidence of human-to-human transmission.


Dr Natasha Bagdasarian, Michigan's chief medical executive, disclosed plans to commence a study in June to assess blood samples from farm workers for evidence of prior bird flu infection. Collaborating closely with the CDC, Michigan aims to ascertain the prevalence of human illness and identify potential past cases of virus contraction among dairy workers.


-      Reuters

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