A recent development across 3 states has brought to light the fourth human case of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) A(H5) virus in the United States. All cases are connected to an outbreak of A(H5N1) among dairy cows. Like the previous cases in Texas, Michigan, and now Colorado, this latest instance involves a dairy farm worker exposed to infected cows. Notably, the Michigan case is the first in the U.S. to present the typical symptoms of acute respiratory illness commonly associated with influenza viruses, including A(H5N1).

Credit: CDC H5N1 Bird Flu Vectors.
Credit: CDC
H5N1 Bird Flu Vectors.
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What's the Deal with this H5N1 Outbreak?

The case in Michigan involves a dairy worker who reported symptoms such as a cough without fever, and eye discomfort with watery discharge. The worker received antiviral treatment with oseltamivir and is currently isolating at home, with symptoms showing signs of improvement. Household contacts of the patient remain symptom-free, are being monitored, and have been offered oseltamivir as a precaution. No other workers at the same farm have reported symptoms, and all staff are under observation. Initial tests confirmed the presence of the influenza A(H5) virus, and further testing is ongoing at the CDC.

Credit: USDA H5N1 Bird Flu: Current Situation as of 7/10/24
Credit: USDA
H5N1 Bird Flu: Current Situation as of 7/10/24.
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CDC Risk Assessment

According to the CDC, the risk to the general public remains low, as the cases are linked to direct exposure to infected animals. However, those with direct or prolonged, unprotected contact with infected animals or contaminated environments face a higher risk. The CDC emphasizes the importance of using personal protective equipment (PPE) and carefully monitoring health for any symptoms for at least ten days following exposure to infected animals.

Key Recommendations for Wisconsin, Iowa, & Illinois Farmers

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Midwest farmers are advised to take specific precautions to protect themselves and their herds. Wearing PPE when interacting with infected or potentially infected animals is crucial. Additionally, dairy farmers should avoid close contact with sick or dead animals, as well as animal waste, bedding, and unpasteurized milk. Farmers should also be aware of outbreaks in their local and neighboring states, like Iowa, Minnesota, and Michigan.

Credit: USDA HPAI Confirmed Cases in Livestock. Confirmed cases over the last 30 days as of July 10th, 2024.
Credit: USDA
HPAI Confirmed Cases in Livestock. Confirmed cases over the last 30 days as of July 10th, 2024.
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Additionally, fair season is here and our local Dubuque fair is doing it's part in regards to CDC and FDA regulations.  They have now officially cancelled the open class dairy show for the 2024 fair. As of now, it is unclear how these regulations will affect other cattle shows across Iowa's busy fair season.

Ensuring Milk Safety: FDA Findings

The FDA has confirmed that pasteurization effectively inactivates the H5N1 virus in milk, ensuring the safety of commercially available milk and dairy products. The study found that heating milk to 161°F (72°C) for 15 seconds, a process known as high-temperature-short-time (HTST) pasteurization, completely eliminates the virus. This provides strong assurances that commercial milk processing is safe. Ongoing studies and surveillance efforts continue to support these findings, reinforcing the safety of pasteurized milk.

Credit: USDA The pasteurization process.
Credit: USDA
The pasteurization process.
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While the risk to the general public is low, it is vital for those in the dairy industry, particularly in Wisconsin and the already infected Iowa, to take preventive measures to safeguard their health and the well-being of their herds. By following CDC and FDA guidelines, dairy farmers can help ensure their safety and prevent the spread of the virus. For more information, you can visit the CDC H5N1 Bird Flu Current Situation Summary and the FDA’s Food Safety Page.

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