Bird Flu In The US Spreads To Cows; What Is The Risk For Humans?

Health authorities in the United States say they are closely monitoring dairy cow herds, as well as beef and milk products around the country since the first outbreak in cows was reported in March. So far, the US is the only country to have reported bird flu in cattle, but there are fears that it could pose a serious threat to humans, too. Read on to know more.
Dairy cows

The strain H5N1 – responsible for millions of bird deaths in the last few years, has been detected in cows across eight states

The bird flu virus in the United States has spread to dairy cows with the health authorities confirming the presence of highly pathogenic avian influenza or HPAI in the country since March 2024. The H5N1 bird flu virus has been found in the raw milk of infected cows, including in samples of milk sold in grocery stores.
The strain H5N1 – responsible for millions of bird deaths in the last few years, has been detected in cows across eight states. However, the authorities say there is still "no concern about the safety of milk supply.” Health agencies say that milk products are safe to be consumed when pasteurized since the process kills the virus.

H5N1 Bird Flu Virus is adapting

Scientists believe that strains of the virus being found in mammals like foxes, bears, domesticated minks, cats, and dogs, demonstrate that H5N1 can adapt and transmit to other species. "Since 2022, the H5N1 virus spread particularly quickly and transmitted to other animals. Every time it transmits to a mammal, it allows the virus to adapt and transmit between animal species," Andrew Pekosz, an immunologist at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health said in a media briefing last week.
The H5N1 virus is primarily adapted to infect birds. Outbreaks have been common in wild birds in the past two decades. There have been sporadic outbreaks in poultry farms around the world since 2022, including across the US and Europe.

Is H5N1 Bird Flu a risk for humans?

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently said that there was no solid evidence to suggest that bird flu was spreading among people. It also said the current public health risk was low. It is even rare for H5N1 to spread from one infected person to close contact because the virus hasn't adapted to replicate inside human cells.
Even though a few people have been infected with the virus it did not spread to others. There have been fewer than 1,000 human cases of Asian HPAI H5N1 around the world. According to statistics, two people have been confirmed to be infected with the H5N1 virus in the current outbreak in the US. The first was in 2022, while a second case was confirmed in April 2024 after exposure to dairy cattle.

New research says H5N1 Bird Flu virus infection can spread through the air

According to a recent study, a strain of the H5N1 influenza virus has developed only a minimal capacity for airborne transmission. A study published in Nature Communications revealed that H5N1 subtype clade 2.3.4.4b, which caused an outbreak in farmed mink, could airborne transmission to a small group of ferrets.
This is the first time that a member of the group of H5N1 clade 2.3.4.4b viruses has been shown to exhibit this ability. According to the Penn State researchers who led the study, the findings suggest these viruses are evolving.
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