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Ag officials confirm avian flu in Ohio cattle herd

cows lined up in some kind of gate eating. a bird looks at the cows
Rodrigo Abd
FILE - Dairy cattle feed at a farm on March 31, 2017, near Vado, N.M. The U.S. Department of Agriculture said Monday, March 25, 2024, that milk from dairy cows in Texas and Kansas has tested positive for bird flu.

Ohio is the latest state to report cows afflicted with a highly contagious form of avian flu. Earlier this week, officials in Texas reported a case of a person infected with novel avian influenza A (H5N1) after being in contact with cows presumed to have the virus. It's the second confirmed case in a human in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The first case was in 2022.

The Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODA) reported Tuesday night it received a presumptive positive test for highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) in a dairy cattle herd in Wood County. The agency told WVXU Wednesday it received confirmation of the diagnosis from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the National Veterinary Services Laboratory.

"We have official confirmation that we do have a case at a dairy in Wood County of HPAI, which is an influenza," says ODA Director Brian Baldridge. "We've been working with this in the poultry industry for about the last two-and-a-half years and it has found its way into the dairy industry. We are working diligently with the dairy, with their vets and with our Animal Health division and our state veterinarian, Dr. (Dennis) Summers, on this issue."

RELATED: A person in Texas caught bird flu after exposure to cows that were thought to be ill

As of April 2, the USDA had confirmed cases of HPAI in cattle in five states: Texas, Kansas, Michigan, Idaho, and New Mexico. That list will now include Ohio.

The ODA reports the cows arrived in Wood County on March 8 from a dairy in Texas. That dairy later reported a confirmed case of HPAI. The Ohio dairy operation alerted state officials when the livestock began showing signs of illness. Baldridge says unlike in the poultry industry, infected cows typically recover and can go back into the production cycle.

Baldridge says Ohioans aren't in danger and the dairy industry is safe.

"From a standpoint from the CDC, as far as safety-wise of humans, it's a very, very low opportunity for any transmission into the human population," Baldridge told WVXU, noting the agency will work with the Department of Health should a need arise.

"There's no concerns from (the) human aspect of ingesting dairy products. They're safe; keep drinking milk, keep buying yogurt ... and cheese and so forth because they are very safe. And that's because of our processes we have it in place for the dairy industry."

FROM 2022: Avian flu forces Cincinnati Zoo birds back indoors

According to the USDA, "There continues to be no concern that this circumstance poses a risk to consumer health, or that it affects the safety of the commercial milk supply because products are pasteurized before entering the market."

It adds that pasteurization inactivates bacteria and viruses in milk. Less is known about HPAI transmission through raw/unpasteurized milk and "the FDA recommends that industry does not manufacture or sell raw milk or raw/unpasteurized milk cheese products made with milk from cows showing symptoms of illness, including those infected with avian influenza or exposed to those infected with avian influenza."

Baldridge further explains, "if there is any question or sickness or anything like that, the local milk that is being harvested from that cow is diverted away from the bulk tank. So it does not even make it into the normal processing chain of events that occur with milk harvesting. Then, to really emphasize the safety level that goes on in the dairy processing aspect of milk production here in Ohio and all across our country, is the pasteurization process. That basically takes all the bacteria out of the milk."

Signs and symptoms of avian influenza A (H5N1) infection in humans may include:

  • Fever (temperature of 100°F [37.8°C] or greater) or feeling feverish or chills
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Headaches
  • Fatigue
  • Eye redness (conjunctivitis)
  • Difficulty breathing/shortness of breath
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Seizures

The Texas Department of State Health Services says the infected person's primary symptom was conjunctivitis. The agency notes conjunctivitis not usually associated with seasonal flu, but "has been observed in avian influenza A virus infections."

Senior Editor and reporter at WVXU with more than 20 years experience in public radio; formerly news and public affairs producer with WMUB. Would really like to meet your dog.