RICHMOND, Va. — As the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) continues to investigate influenza detections in dairy cattle, the agency has issued recommendations to help minimize transmission at dairy cattle exhibitions. Many of these are the same type of recommendations that have been in place for years to help reduce transmission of many diseases. While there have been no positive detections of influenza in cattle in the state, the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services encourages cattle producers, as well as poultry owners, to practice good biosecurity every day to protect their animals.

Since March 2024, the USDA, Food and Drug Administration, and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have worked with state agricultural and public health officials in nine states to investigate a disease seen only in lactating dairy cows that includes a temporary decrease in milk production, reduced feed intake, and abnormal milk. Milking dairy cows with these symptoms have tested positive for H5N1 Influenza A Virus, the same strain of the virus that causes Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) in poultry. The USDA’s National Veterinary Services Laboratory confirmed that the strain of the virus in cattle is very similar to the strain originally introduced into poultry flocks by wild ducks and geese. Although this disease is often deadly for poultry, affected cattle generally recover and return to normal in about two weeks.

The disease remains a concern for all livestock. There have been three cases involving humans, with all of them involving farm workers on dairy farms that had infected cows. In these cases, the individuals developed mild symptoms and recovered. Fortunately, numerous layers of food safety precautions ensure that eggs, meat and pasteurized milk remain safe to consume.

USDA has identified the spread of this disease between cows in other states. While providing an opportunity for learning and to showcase the hard work invested in agricultural animals, fairs and exhibitions also provide an opportunity for illness to spread among animals from multiple herds. Appropriate measures should be taken to minimize the potential for spread of disease in exhibiting animals. The following recommendations provide guidance for exhibition organizers and exhibitors:

Exhibition Organizers

Collect sufficient contact information (i.e., email addresses and cell phone numbers) from all exhibitors to be able to rapidly communicate procedural changes, requests for information, or incidents associated with the exhibition.Ensure that a process is in place to document farms of origin of cattle as well as individual identification of cows.Develop and share the biosecurity plan for the event with exhibitors. The plan should:Limit co-mingling of cows from different herds to the extent possible.Communicate expectations for milking of healthy cows while at the exhibition.Sick cows should be removed from the exhibition area as soon as possible and milk discarded in an appropriate manner.Outline cleaning and disinfection procedures for both exhibition and isolation areas.Ensure handwashing stations with running water, soap, and paper towels are available near the exit of the exhibition area.Establish an official show veterinarian for the event to manage sick animals.Work with state animal health officials to understand interstate and intrastate testing and movement requirements for exhibition cattle and communicate these requirements to exhibitors.Post signs near the exhibition area exits that instruct visitors to wash their hands when leaving the animal area.


Become familiar with requirements for interstate movement as well as any state specific exhibition requirements prior to the event.Become familiar with signs of disease in cattle and work with your veterinarian to ensure your animals are free of illness.Clean and disinfect any equipment you will be bringing with you to the fair or exhibition.Observe animals regularly for signs of illness, and report sick cattle to the show veterinarian and exhibition organizers. Remove sick animals from the exhibition area.Do not share tools, feed and water, portable milking equipment and supplies, or grooming supplies with other exhibitors.Isolate and observe animals daily for illness after returning home and before allowing contact with other animals.While not always practical, ideally, animals returning home should be isolated for 30 days.Do not share equipment between show cattle and other animals at home.Clean and disinfect all equipment you took to the show by using approved disinfectants that are safe for human and animal contact.

–Michael Wallace, VDACS



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