Bird flu hits cows, chickens and humans in Texas during duck migration

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Migrating waterfowl are to blame for the rise in bird flu outbreaks in cows and poultry in Texas, but wild animals carrying the virus are expected to head north soon, state Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller said Tuesday (2).

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Since last week, the United States government has reported cases of the disease in seven dairy herds in Texas and in one person who had contact with cows, making it the state most affected by the first outbreaks of bird flu in the country. Texas is the largest cattle producer in the US.

The cases in dairy cattle and the second human case in two years in the US have renewed concerns about the virus, which has been infecting flocks of birds and a growing number of other species around the world since 2022.

As a result, a positive test at a Texas egg farm led Cal-Maine to cull 1.6 million chickens, the company said Tuesday. Texas has never experienced such a large outbreak at a commercial poultry facility, Miller said.

“This is transmitted by waterfowl,” the state commissioner said in an interview. “We are in the season of migration.”

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The U.S. Department of Agriculture first reported on March 25 that a cow and milk from two farms in Texas tested positive for bird flu, along with milk from two farms in Kansas. The agency later confirmed positive tests in other dairy herds in Texas, New Mexico, Michigan and Idaho.

The strain of the virus found in subsequent states is very similar to the strain confirmed in the initial cases in Texas and Kansas, which appear to have been introduced by wild birds, the USDA said.

“We’re ready for the ducks to head north to their nesting sites,” Miller said. “We believe that within a week or so, they will all be out of Texas and we will be out of danger.”

The USDA said transmission of the disease among livestock cannot be ruled out.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention considers the risk of bird flu to humans to be low. The Texas patient’s only symptom was eye inflammation, according to the state health department.

The Texas outbreak may have started about a month ago, when a mysterious illness affected about 40% of the state’s dairy herds, Miller said. He said he now suspects it was bird flu, although authorities didn’t know that at the time and can’t confirm why the animals recovered.

“We were testing for every livestock disease we could think of and then someone said, ‘What are all these dead birds doing around?’” Miller said.

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