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USDA Says Bird Flu Positive among Texas Panhandle Cattle

On March 25, 2024, Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller announced that the United States Department of Agriculture had confirmed the presence of a strain of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI)—commonly known as “bird flu”—among cattle in the Texas Panhandle. Three dairies in Texas have tested positive for HPAI, subtype H5N1. The outbreak is being monitored by the Texas Department of Agriculture and the US Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Animal and Plant Inspection Service (APHIS).

 

In Amarillo, beef and dairy scientist Matt Garner, PhD, executive director of The RANGE, said the disease likely transferred to cattle by infected birds flying from dairy to dairy. “The avian flu, which is of viral origin, has been circulating in wild birds across the United States as well as globally. This is well documented.” Garner says. “ Zoonotic diseases can pass from birds to cattle, so this is one of the daily challenges of large animal agriculture. Producers and their teams work hard to isolate sick animals and give them the immediate attention they need; that is why this has been identified so quickly.” Garner also stated, “It’s an emerging disease, local dairies are receiving guidance from the USDA, Texas Department of Agriculture, and the top scientists in the country.”

 

Dr. Garner, a microbiologist, says “Most of the affected dairy cattle are more susceptible to infection because they are older, pregnant, or in a postpartum lactating state, which leaves them more susceptible. Just like humans are often worried about infant or elderly populations during flu season, the same applies to cattle.”

 

“The presence of avian flu in dairy cattle does not mean consumers are at elevated risk,”  Garner explains. “It’s highly unlikely to catch bird flu by consuming beef or dairy. The avian flu is a respiratory and gastrointestinal virus and is not found in muscle—the cuts of meat people consume. Additionally, the milk in grocery stores has been pasteurized, a process that should kill pathogenic bacteria and viruses,” Garner adds. “Currently, it is thought that most people are not susceptible to this new subtype of lower pathogenic H5N1.” To date, no human illnesses caused by this subtype of H5N1 have been reported in the U.S.

 

The primary impact of the disease may be economic due to temporarily diminished supply and an additional testing burden for producers. “This microbiological outbreak further emphasizes the need for STEM educational programs from K-12 and underscores the investment in community colleges and our regional university partners like Texas Tech, WTAMU, and their respective veterinary schools,” Garner says. “We need locally educated citizens, business owners, and scientists involved in health monitoring, food safety, and food production every day. The nation’s food is safe and very dependable due to our local workforce.”


dairy cattle in the texas panhandle
Dr. Matt Garner, executive director of The RANGE, discusses the presence of a strain of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI)—commonly known as “bird flu”—among cattle in the Texas Panhandle.

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