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Minnesota livestock growers on high alert as bird flu has jumped to cattle in 3 other states

Christopher Vondracek and Brooks Johnson, Star Tribune on

Published in News & Features

MINNEAPOLIS — Bird flu has jumped to cattle for the first time in the U.S., and recently infected a dairy worker in Texas.

Agriculture officials in Minnesota are watching closely for infections in the state's cattle herds and dairies, while public health officials continue to say the risk to humans remains low and pasteurized milk remains safe.

"I'd be surprised if it isn't here already here (in cattle)," said Dr. Joe Armstrong, a University of Minnesota Extension livestock educator.

The ongoing highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) outbreak began in 2022 has resulted in the mass culling of turkeys and chickens across the state whenever an infection is found. Although evidence suggests the fast-spreading disease is not lethal in cattle, Armstrong said Tuesday federal and state officials are working with farmers and veterinarians to keep animals safe.

So far there are no reports of HPAI in cattle in Minnesota. Last week, dairy cows and their milk in Texas and Kansas tested positive for the virus. By Friday, a dairy herd in Michigan that had received cows from Texas also had sick cattle.

Last month, Minnesota officials reported the nation's first positive bird flu infection of a ruminant. A litter of Stevens County goat kids shared water with an infected poultry flock and later several tested positive for the virus.

 

Animal health officials say livestock owners should be on watch for symptoms. On Tuesday, Dr. Brian Hoefs, Minnesota's state veterinarian, told the state's House agriculture committee the cattle in Texas ate less feed, showed respiratory stress and had dark, tacky manure. Evidence of HPAI was found in tests of raw milk.

"It's basically the same virus that's been circulating since 2022," Hoefs said. One distinct difference from birds, however: All the sick cows recovered.

Armstrong said veterinarians, U.S. Department of Agriculture officials and researchers may have just discovered an illness that was always present, but it is just now being detected because of heightened attention to influenza in animals.

"We're still making those connections and trying to figure that out," Dr. Armstrong said.

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