AMARILLO, Texas (KAMR/KCIT) — On Monday, Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller announced that the United States Department of Agriculture confirmed the presence of a strain of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza, commonly known as bird flu, among cattle in the Texas Panhandle.

According to Miller, three dairies in Texas and one in Kansas have tested positive for HPAI.

“What the dairy producers have been seeing is that the cows have gone off feed initially, have a decrease in roaming function, and then a day or two after that, they produce milk that’s constant with colostrum and then they may have a secondary to that being respiratory issues is what they are seeing. Mastitis may develop as a secondary infection,” said Dr. Bud Dinges, Texas State Veterinarian and Texas Animal Health Commission Executive Director.

According to The Range, an industry-led nonprofit in the Texas Panhandle, which is driving innovation in food, beef, dairy, crop, and energy production industries, this virus is a subtype of H5N1 and the outbreak is being monitored by the Texas Department of Agriculture and the US Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Inspection Service.

Dr. Matt Garner, executive director of The Range said the virus comes from wild birds.

“This virus has been described as a highly pathogenic strain, but more technically what we should realize the virology and the microbiology community considers it as a low pathogenic meaning that it might infect a lot of animals, but the morbidity, the sickness, the mortality, the death are extremely low,” said Garner.

Dr. Jenna Funk, clinical assistant professor & beef cattle veterinarian at West Texas A&M University’s VERO program explains how that spread from bird to cattle can happen.

“Like most viruses, it can spread through pretty much any fluid that comes off of those birds. So respiratory secretions, feces, and feathers being in the feed. Birds can often be a nuisance on dairy farms, so they get into feed, they get into the bedding, so cattle come into contact with fluids from those birds all the time and it’s more than likely how they contracted it from the wild birds that are making homes on dairies,” said Funk.

Dinges said a majority of cows recover in seven to ten days.

“Some of these cows are drying themselves off after a couple of days. Some cattle are going back to producing normal consistency milk in say seven to ten days, but they usually don’t come back to full production, producing as much milk as they were before they were infected,” said Dinges.

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Miller added Texas dairies are strongly advised to use all standard biosecurity measures including restricting access to essential personnel only, disinfecting all vehicles entering and leaving premises, isolating affected cattle, and destroying all contaminated milk. Additionally, Miller added it is important to clean and disinfect all livestock watering devices and isolate drinking water where it might be contaminated by waterfowl. Farmers are asked to notify their herd veterinarian if they suspect any cattle within their herd are displaying symptoms of this condition. He added it is vital that dairy facilities nationwide practice heightened biosecurity measures to mitigate further spread.

Funk said farmers are always monitoring the health and well-being of their animals and on dairy farms, the biggest thing is milk production.

“So every cow that gets milked every day, they are looking at how much milk she is producing, and when she falls below her average or outside the normal range, she gets flagged in their data system and somebody automatically goes and examines that animal to make sure it wasn’t just a fluke, did the milkers fall off or is it because of some physiological reason why she is not producing the milk we expect her to. Those cows they get examined, physical exams making sure they appear healthy, they don’t have fevers, there isn’t something else going on, like mastitis, something along those lines. Nothing gastrointestinal interruptions, if they do find something, that cow is sick and it needs to be treated, if she is treated with any drugs, at all. Like anti-inflammatories or antibiotics, her milk can’t enter the milk stream, so it has to be removed and dumped, so those cows that are treated or need their milk removed from the stream, they get pulled out from normal housing pens and get put into hospital pens, where they get a little extra room, a little extra TLC and to make sure they are getting the treatment they need and are responding to the care we give them,” said Funk.

Funk said influenza isn’t the only thing that cattle can pick up from birds.

“We can see things like salmonella infections as well, that come through birds. So we try hard, we legitimately try hard to try and reduce a lot of that bird contact already,” said Funk.

According to the USDA, initial testing by the National Veterinary Services Laboratories has not found changes to the virus that would make it more transmissible to humans, indicating that the current risk to the public remains low.

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The USDA added that the commercial milk supply remains safe due to both federal animal health requirements and pasteurization.

“This is not a food safety issue in the slightest…Cows are usually not put in the bull tank for sale, into the food supply, that milk is diverted. Even if it does end up into the bull tank, the food supply milk, all the milk in grocery stores is pasteurized, and that pasteurization process kills any bad bacteria, it denatures the viruses and so it’s not going to show up in any food supply at all, ” said Funk.

Miller said economic impacts to facilities are ongoing as herds that are greatly impacted may lose up to 40% of their milk production for 7 to 10 days until symptoms subside.

The USDA also added that milk loss resulting from symptomatic cattle to date is too limited to have a major impact on supply and there should be no impact on the price of milk or other dairy products.

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