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Public Safety, Virginia

Virginia producers to get update on avian influenza as outbreak extends beyond cattle and poultry

Crystal Graham
cows feeding with chickens nearby
(© W PRODUCTION – stock.adobe.com)

Virginia producers will get an update on the highly pathogenic avian influenza later this month as the outbreak nationwide has included poultry, cattle, cats, and now, a human in a rare case in Texas.

The Virginia Beef Center of Excellence will hold a virtual meeting for Virginia producers on Thursday, April 25, in conjunction with other Virginia agencies.

According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, the current avian influenza outbreak “has been confirmed in dairy cattle in eight states: 11 herds in Texas, six in New Mexico, four in Michigan, three in Kansas, and one each in Idaho, Ohio, North Carolina and South Dakota.”

Three cats on an affected farm in Texas also tested positive for the virus.

While the risk to the public remains low, the detection of avian influenza in a human case linked to this outbreak serves as a reminder of the potential for transmission between people and animals.

The Virginia Tech Animal Laboratory Services lab at the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine, as part of the National Animal Health Laboratory Network, along with veterinary alumni at federal and state organizations have been monitoring the situation.

The state’s veterinary services, under the guidance of the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Service, are on high alert, prepared to implement management strategies if the virus is detected.

In Virginia, the biggest concern is for farms that have dairy cattle and poultry on the same farm, said Carrie Bissett DVM, director of veterinary services for the VDACS.

The impact on Virginia, Bissett said, has been “so far, minimal to none.”

“Making sure that you are changing clothes, changing your personal protective equipment, boots, those sort of things before then go in and work on your poultry, making sure that separation is there is more important than ever right now,” Bissett said.

“Certainly, if you see dairy cattle that are off feed, perhaps febrile, perhaps not, with changes in milk production, decreased milk production, changes in milk property and quality, and you’ve ruled out some of your other common diseases, this is something to think about.”

Testing is available through state veterinarians who are managing the HPAI tests and supplies.

“It’s important for producers to understand that they should not independently seek testing for HPAI. Instead, if there’s a concern, they need to promptly contact their veterinarian or state animal health officials,” said Tanya LeRoith, clinical professor in the Department of Biomedical Sciences and Pathobiology and director of the ViTALS lab. “This ensures that the response is measured and within the guidelines set forth by health authorities.”

More information is available on the USDA website.

Advice for management of livestock

  • Monitor livestock closely: Look for symptoms such as decreased milk production, changes in milk quality, low appetite and general signs of illness among cattle.
  • Maintain stringent biosecurity measures: Ensure that biosecurity protocols are strictly followed to prevent the introduction and spread of the virus within farms. This includes proper sanitation, the use of personal protective equipment and avoiding cross-contamination between different types of livestock.
  • Immediate reporting and isolation: Any suspected cases of avian influenza in cattle should be immediately reported to the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Service or local veterinary services. Infected or suspected animals should be isolated to prevent spread.
  • Stay informed: Keep abreast of updates from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Service, and health authorities regarding the outbreak and follow their guidance diligently.

Crystal Graham

Crystal Graham

Crystal Abbe Graham is the regional editor of Augusta Free Press. A 1999 graduate of Virginia Tech, she has worked for nearly 25 years as a reporter and editor for several Virginia publications, written a book, and garnered more than a dozen Virginia Press Association awards for writing and graphic design. She was the co-host of "Viewpoints," a weekly TV news show, and co-host of Virginia Tonight, a nightly TV news show. Her work on "Virginia Tonight" earned her a national Telly award for excellence in television.