USDA takes additional measures to contain the spread of avian influenza A

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USDA is providing additional emergency funding to curb the spread of H5N1 and launched a new program to help dairy producers monitor their herds’ health

Photo: Mikko Palonkorpi/Adobe Stock

Photo: Mikko Palonkorpi/Adobe Stock

In an effort to safeguard the health of the nation’s livestock and poultry, and better understand and reduce the risks posed by the avian influenza A (H5N1) virus, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced it was allocating an additional $824 million in emergency funding from the Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC). Additionally, it is initiating a new voluntary H5N1 Dairy Herd Status Pilot program to offer dairy producers more options for monitoring their herds' health and help move cows faster while implementing ongoing testing to expand the USDA's knowledge of the disease.1

Additional Emergency Funding

Thomas Vilsack, United States secretary of agriculture, green lit the transfer of $824 million from the CCC to the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) in May to bolster its rapid response capabilities. “We are investing an additional $824 million in our response efforts and standing up a pilot program to reduce the risk of H5N1 in dairy herds,” Vilsack said in an X post, formerly Twitter.2

This funding will allow the APHIS to sustain its collaboration with state and local partners to swiftly identify and tackle cases of the highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) in poultry and livestock. The allocated funds will help cover anticipated diagnostics, field response actions, pre-movement testing requirements and surveillance and control measures, including wildlife surveillance by APHIS. Moreover, the funding will support the Agricultural Research Service’s (ARS) work in vaccine development for HPAI in cattle, goats, pigs, and turkeys, along with food safety studies conducted by ARS and the Food Safety and Inspection Service. This move follows the USDA's earlier approval of $1.3 billion in emergency funds to tackle nationwide HPAI detections in wild birds and commercial poultry operations.

Voluntary Dairy Herd Status Pilot Program

The Voluntary H5N1 Dairy Herd Status Pilot Program offers dairy producers alternative testing and movement options, aiming to boost the USDA's monitoring capabilities in curbing the H5N1 spread. The program aims to provide additional testing avenues for dairy herds testing negative for 3 consecutive weeks. It also strives to reduce H5N1 virus dissemination, increase surveillance and advance disease understanding.1 

Farmers who opt into the Voluntary H5N1 Dairy Herd Status Pilot Program will need to demonstrate their herds' H5N1-free status from a National Animal Health Laboratory Network (NAHLN) facility. The program then requires farmers to perform weekly bulk milk tests from that herd to affirm that status, which will enable them to ship their cows at their preferred time without individually testing animals. Herds not participating in the pilot program will still need to adhere to the interstate testing and movement requirements outlined in the Federal Order.1

“As additional testing measures take place, USDA anticipates that it will see an increase in testing and positive test results, which will add to our knowledge of the disease and how it may spread between herds. At the same time, this pilot program will help to gather additional information on how producers with affected herds can document elimination of the virus on their operations and steps they can take to maintain an H5N1 virus-free herd,” wrote the USDA in a news release.

In an earlier news article by Contagion Live, Erin Sorell, PhD, MSc, senior scholar at the Center for Health Security at John Hopkins talked about the impact of HPAI on not only livestock, but on workers as well. “The stress... beyond this outbreak is thinking about improved occupational health and safety for agricultural workers, because this scenario could happen again,” he said.3 “We really need to be able to not only respond to the current situation but adapt and prevent future exposure risks.”

The USDA’s announcement on May 30, 2024, came the same day a third case of H5N1 in a Michigan farmworker working with influenza A (h5) positive cattle was detected. So far, cases of HPAI in domestic livestock have been confirmed in 11 states. In the last 30 days, livestock herds have been affected in Minnesota, Michigan, Iowa, South Dakota, Wyoming, Colorado, Idaho, and Texas, with Idaho having the highest number of cases at 17, as of June 21, 2024.4

References

  1. USDA announces $824 million in new funding to protect livestock health; launches voluntary H5N1 dairy herd status pilot program. News release. Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.May 30, 2024. Accessed June 3, 2024.https://www.usda.gov/media/press-releases/2024/05/30/usda-announces-824-million-new-funding-protect-livestock-health 
  2. @SecVilsack. “Today @USDA announced additional steps we are taking to ensure the health of the nation’s livestock. We are investing an additional $824 million in our response efforts and standing up a pilot program to reduce the risk of H5N1 in dairy herds.” May 30, 2024. Accessed June 3, 2024. https://x.com/SecVilsack/status/1796341844688937328
  3. Abene S. First case of HPAI A (H5N1) virus infection in US dairy farm worker. Contagion Live. May 16, 2024. Accessed June 3, 2024. https://www.contagionlive.com/view/first-case-of-hpai-a-h5n1-virus-infection-in-us-dairy-farm-worker 
  4. HPAI confirmed cases in livestock. Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. June 21, 2024. Accessed June 25, 2024. https://www.aphis.usda.gov/livestock-poultry-disease/avian/avian-influenza/hpai-detections/hpai-confirmed-cases-livestock
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