U.S. government officials said Thursday that a third dairy farmworker has contracted bird flu, but that the threat to the general public remains low.

The information came in a telephone news conference in which an Agriculture Department official announced that USDA will use $824 million from the Commodity Credit Corporation to bolster its current efforts to mitigate H5N1 in dairy cattle and to launch a new Voluntary H5N1 Dairy Herd Status Pilot Program to give dairy producers more options to monitor the health of their herds and move cows more quickly while providing ongoing testing and expanding USDA’s understanding of the disease.

The first two farmworkers who were infected with bird flu, one in Texas and one in Michigan, developed conjunctivitis, better known as pink eye. But the third infected farmworker, who is in Michigan, has respiratory symptoms, which are potentially more serious. The third farmworker had direct exposure to an infected cow, an official said.

It’s important for dairy workers to wear personal protective equipment, the officials said, but they acknowledged that there has been some resistance to wearing the equipment in hot weather.

On the same call, Eric Deeble, a USDA official, announced the additional funding to continue the response to the outbreak. USDA noted in a news release that the new funding is in addition to previously approved the use of $1.3 billion in emergency funding to address nationwide HPAI detections in wild birds and commercial poultry operations.

USDA said, “The Voluntary H5N1 Dairy Herd Status Pilot Program aims to create additional testing options for producers with herds that have tested negative for three weeks in a row, further reduce H5N1 virus dissemination, provide for further opportunities to test herds that are not known to be affected with H5N1, increase surveillance and expand our knowledge of the disease, and support an overall national program to reduce the risk of H5N1 in dairy herds.”

USDA added, “The main benefit for farmers who choose to enroll in the Voluntary H5N1 Dairy Herd Status Pilot Program is that once they can demonstrate their herds are free of H5N1 with results from a National Animal Health Laboratory Network facility, they will then need to conduct weekly tests on bulk milk from that herd to confirm that status and will be able to ship their cows at the time they prefer and without testing individual animals.

“Dairy producers from states enrolled in the first phase of this program who choose to enroll their herds and who test negative for H5N1 for three consecutive weeks using on-farm bulk tank milk samples or similar representative milk samples tested at a NAHLN laboratory will be able to move animals without additional pre-movement testing currently required under the Federal Order. Producers must also comply with continued regular weekly monitoring and testing of the herd for H5N1.”

USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service is working with state animal health officials to identify states to participate in a pilot phase of the program, USDA said.

Producers from states participating in the pilot can start enrolling in the Voluntary H5N1 Dairy Herd Status Pilot Program next week by contacting their APHIS area veterinarian in charge or the state veterinarian and signing a Herd Monitoring Plan agreement.

USDA strongly encourages dairy producers to enroll in this new program. Beyond the benefits for their own operations, increased producer participation may help USDA to establish state and/or regional disease-free statuses that could further ease compliance with the current federal order. Those herds not enrolled in the pilot program will continue to follow the interstate testing and movement requirements published in the federal order.

More specific guidance on the new program, including how to enroll and how to obtain and maintain a herd status, will be made available soon on the APHIS website.

The Health and Human Services Department said today the Administration for Strategic Preparedness and Response is focused on protecting farmworkers, and that it is making PPE available to protect farmworkers and others who may come in contact with infected animals through the Strategic National Stockpile, supplementing commercial availability and state-managed stockpiles.

HHS also said ASPR will make oseltamivir (Tamiflu) available upon request to jurisdictions that do not have their own stockpiles and are responding to treatment of symptomatic persons with exposure to confirmed or suspected infected birds, cattle, or other animal exposures.

To date, ASPR has worked with six states to provide PPE more farmworker safety. USDA also is providing financial support for producers who supply PPE to employees or provide outerwear uniform laundering, for producers of affected herds who facilitate the participation of their workers in USDA/CDC workplace and farmworker study.

Gregg Doud, president and CEO of the National Milk Producers Federation, said, “We thank USDA for its leadership and important work with dairy farmers in meeting the challenges posed by H5N1. Collaboration and communication across all levels of government, and among all segments of the livestock industry, is critical in making sure that producers can continue to feed Americans and the world with safe, nutritious food.”

Also, APHIS announced May 22 it is restricting the importation of poultry, commercial birds, ratites, avian hatching eggs, unprocessed avian products and byproducts, and certain fresh poultry products from the state of Victoria, Australia.

USDA said, “Importation of any of these commodities originating from or transiting the state of Victoria is prohibited, based on APHIS’ determination that highly pathogenic avian influenza exists in domestic birds.”

“APHIS considers all other states in Australia to be unaffected by HPAI and not subject to restriction.

“Under these restrictions, processed avian products and byproducts originating from or transiting the state of Victoria, Australia, imported as cargo, must be accompanied by an APHIS import permit and/or government certification confirming that the products were treated according to APHIS requirements.”

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