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Undercounting the Severity of the Bird Flu



Are more dairy cattle and more Americans sick with Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) than officials know? And how much will that matter if it is true?


The USDA reported on Thursday that nine states had dairy cattle infected with avian flu.


  • Colorado

  • Idaho

  • Kansas

  • Michigan

  • New Mexico

  • North Carolina

  • Ohio

  • South Dakota

  • Texas



Dairy farmers, ranchers, and consumers all share the same hope that the food supply remains safe from bird flu’s ill effects. And federal officials have insisted that has been the case so far.


On Wednesday, USDA officials announced that all beef sampled from areas where infected dairy cattle had been confirmed tested negative. Officials said that they tested 30 samples. “These results reaffirm that the meat supply is safe," the USDA reported.



Officials previously reported that they had found trace amounts of avian flu in pasteurized milk. But the USDA reported that pasteurization inactivates the bird flu, which makes it safe for consumption. Officials announced that they had also included cottage cheese and sour cream.


RELATED: Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig told American Farmland Owner that he is concerned about raw milk, which by its nature, does not get pasteurized. Watch that interview here.  


So, the food supply appears safe, infected dairy cattle seem to recover, and just one dairy worker has been confirmed to be infected with the virus so far. Those could be significantly positive developments, especially when you consider what has happened to poultry in recent years. Tens of millions of birds had to be culled because of how severe the virus’ impact is on poultry and how fast it can spread.


But National Public Radio reported on scientists who doubt avian flu has only infected one person and 36 dairy herds nationally. They suspect that more people have been infected and just don’t know it.


Fortunately, the one confirmed case in humans, a Texas dairy worker, experienced mild symptoms. If others suffered those same symptoms, they might assume that they had a bad cold or flu and may not seek medical care. That limits doctors’ knowledge of avian flu’s spread.  


Some agricultural workers may also not have the time or resources/health insurance coverage to get tested. That could also prevent health officials from knowing the full scope of the virus in the country.


And dairy cattle farmers are at a disadvantage compared to poultry farmers when it comes to avian flu, too. They don’t receive indemnity payments for losses like poultry farmers.


Without that financial assistance, would that make them less committed to determining if or how widespread the bird flu is in their dairy herd?


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