We don’t know how fast bird flu is spreading

The Hill

The threat to the general public is currently low, health officials say, and the country’s milk supply is safe.
Dairy farm workers are at risk every time they are exposed to potentially infected cattle, and viral mutations could cause an outbreak, experts warn.
Bird flu was first detected in dairy cows in March, though data from viral samples showed it had been circulating in cattle for at least four months prior.
That’s concerning to some experts, who said there could have been widespread human exposure and asymptomatic spread among dairy workers.
Farmers have been reluctant to allow federal health officials onto their land to test potentially infected cattle amid uncertainty about how their businesses would be impacted.
And that hasn’t happened in a substantial way to date,” said Jessica Leibler, an environmental epidemiologist at Boston University’s school of public health.
Exposure does not necessarily mean infection, but the more workers who are exposed to potentially infected cattle, the greater the risk.
COVID developed a political veneer, and that impeded public health.


Experts in infectious diseases and public health are worried that the United States is not testing enough for avian flu, which is causing an incomplete picture of the virus’s spread despite the fact that the virus is spreading quickly among cattle.

Health officials state that there is currently little risk to the general public and that the nation’s milk supply is secure. There is only one afflicted individual.

It is imperative that we are in a position to identify, address, and stop the spread of this virus. Xavier Becerra, the secretary of health and human services, recently told reporters, “I think that’s clear in everything we’re saying.”.

However, the outbreak is widespread; 42 herds in nine states have tested positive for the virus, according to officials. Experts caution that viral mutations could spark an outbreak and put dairy farm workers at risk each time they come into contact with possibly infected cattle.

It’s possible that cases involving cattle, humans, or both are being missed. Approximately half of those infected by the bird flu usually die from the virus, according to previous global outbreaks.

Even if there isn’t much of a risk for the public from this strain, many experts believe that the response is the largest test of pandemic preparedness since COVID-19.

The COVID experience has presented us with some untapped opportunities that we should have taken advantage of. It seems possible, in my opinion. Senior scholar Erin Sorrell of the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security stated, “At this point, we’re not in danger.

The virus that causes bird flu was first identified in dairy cows in March, but data from sample viruses indicated that the disease had been present in cattle for at least four months earlier. Some experts find that worrying, suggesting that there may have been widespread human exposure and asymptomatic spread among dairy workers.

The broad influenza A category, which includes H5N1, is being tested for in at least 30 of the 260 individuals being watched for symptoms by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). There is only one confirmed positive case, a farmworker in Texas who has since made a full recovery.

Fearing for the future of their businesses, farmers have been hesitant to let federal health officials test possibly infected cattle on their property.

Experts said that the reason why farmworkers have been reluctant to participate in screening is probably a combination of concerns about losing their jobs, their immigration status, language barriers, and a general mistrust of public health systems.

They are susceptible due to their socioeconomic status. There are some situations where conducting surveillance on these employees kind of needs the employer’s approval. Jessica Leibler, an environmental epidemiologist at Boston University’s school of public health, stated that this hasn’t occurred in a significant way thus far.

Although infection does not always follow exposure, there is a higher risk to workers who come into contact with possibly infected cattle. Mammals offer the virus the chance to mutate with every new infection.

Sorrell stated, “We have no idea [of the spread] without testing, without surveillance.”. “Until we have a better understanding of how agricultural workers were exposed and the possibility that more people could be exposed and infected, we are essentially unable to proceed with an improved approach to protecting agricultural workers from occupational exposures.”. “.

Only dairy cattle herds that are crossing state lines are subject to a federal order that went into effect at the end of April that mandates testing. It is not within the authority of the CDC to mandate that states conduct tests within their boundaries, nor can its employees conduct investigations without a formal invitation from state or private landowners. Speaking with several states about establishing field investigations, Becerra stated that the CDC is currently in talks.

Stacey Schultz-Cherry, an animal influenza specialist at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital stated that although these restrictions are a barrier, authorities ought to be able to come up with solutions, like wastewater testing.

“Since people will be extremely sensitive about it, there are ways to do surveillance and testing on samples that can’t or maybe don’t have to be traced back to a particular area or particular farm,” the spokesperson stated.

To reach out to dairy farmers and producers and stress the importance of assisting with federal health investigations, federal officials have been collaborating with state veterinary and agricultural officials.

“In a recent briefing, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack told reporters that it is important for us, the state public health officials, state veterinarians, or state agriculture officials, to essentially communicate that it’s in the long-term best interest of the industry and all of us to make sure that we have as much information as possible.”.

Producers “obviously view this situation as an animal health issue… so they may not fully appreciate and understand the approach that public health officials need to take in the circumstance,” according to Vilsack.

Also, for the first time, the organization is providing financial aid—including compensation for lost milk yield from afflicted cows—to farms affected by the avian flu.

Producers and employees in the dairy industry do not have the same relationship with public health as those in the poultry and egg industries, according to William Schaffner, an infectious disease specialist and professor at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine.

Schaffner remarked, “They’re more on edge and concerned; this is new for them.”. Since staff members feel more at ease there, all of these diplomatic overtures and talks are taking place locally. Public health was hampered by the political façade that COVID developed. Because of this legacy, which is still present today, the dairy industry may be more cautious. “.

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