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Reduce HPAI risk: Buckle down on biosecurity

MU Extension can help producers develop a biosecurity plan to protect dairy cattle and workers from the virus.

Mindy Ward, Editor, Missouri Ruralist

April 9, 2024

3 Min Read
A veterinarian reaching out to cows in a barn
SAFETY FIRST: Dairy farms exposed to HPAI need to keep both animals and workers safe. It starts with using extra safety precautions such as gloves and rubber boots when interacting with cows up and down the supply chain to ensure the disease does not spread. SeventyFour/Getty Images

In light of highly pathogenic avian influenza being detected in dairies, University of Missouri Extension state dairy veterinarian Scott Poock says producers should elevate biosecurity on the farm.

Initial reports of HPAI came from two dairies in the Texas Panhandle and one in New Mexico. According to the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, USDA confirmed the detection of HPAI in dairy herds in Texas, Kansas, Michigan and New Mexico.

While veterinary professionals are working closely with producers and university researchers to learn more about the disease, Poock says farmers need to protect their herds.

“We encourage Missouri dairy producers to practice the utmost caution if purchasing animals from the panhandle region of Texas,” he says.

Don’t sidestep biosecurity

Dairy producers should protect their cattle by insisting vendors, fieldmen and nutritionists thoroughly sanitize equipment and vehicles before coming on the farm and when leaving, Poock says in a news release. In addition, farmers should require all points of contact to wear clean clothes and rubber or disposable boots to help mitigate potential problems.

“Likewise,” Poock says, “keep a record of anyone that visits your farm to be able to trace any source.”

It is not only about safeguarding livestock from the disease, but also humans.

Related:Avian flu detected in dairy cattle

The first day of April, the Centers for Disease Control reported a person in Texas tested positive for the HPAI A(H5N1) virus. However, the CDC said this infection does not change the A(H5N1) bird flu human health risk assessment for the U.S. public, which is “low.”

It recommends people working with sick animals that may be infected with HPAI wear personal protective equipment, eye protection and gloves.

Build a biosecurity plan

If farmers do not have a biosecurity plan for their dairy farm, MU Extension has specialists willing to help. They include:

  • Scott Poock, state Extension dairy veterinarian, 573-882-6359

  • Reagan Bluel, dairy field specialist, 417-847-3161

  • Chloe Collins, dairy field specialist, 417-349-4134

  • Stacey Hamilton, Extension specialist in animal sciences, 417-838-3548

Additional resources are offered through the Missouri Department of Agriculture’s Secure Milk Supply program.

Symptoms of HPAI in livestock

HPAI in dairy cattle is likely first noted by a sudden decrease in milk production. Texas dairies reported a drop of up to 30 pounds per day.

However, the earliest detection by dairy farmers is a reduced feed intake and changes in manure consistency.

Cows exhibiting symptoms are often mid-lactation, in second or greater lactation, says Reagan Bluel, MU Extension dairy field specialist.

“Milk has often been misdiagnosed as mastitis in the beginning as it becomes thick in consistency,” she says. “Manure changes as the rumen motility decreases, varying from dry to tacky stools.”

While very few animals die because of this undiagnosed condition, Bluel says many are culled when they don’t rebound in milk production.

Contact a veterinarian immediately if these symptoms are visible in your dairy herd.

Warning signs of HPAI in humans

People exposed to livestock potentially infected with HPAI should monitor their health for acute respiratory illness symptoms.

In addition, gastrointestinal symptoms such as diarrhea are often reported with HPAI A(H5N1) virus infection.

Severity and symptoms can vary depending on the person and possible exposure level. Below are examples from the CDC:

  • Mild illness includes cough, sore throat, eye redness or eye discharge such as conjunctivitis, fever or feeling feverish, rhinorrhea, fatigue, myalgia, arthralgia, and headaches.

  • Moderate to severe illness includes shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, altered mental status, and seizures.

Extreme complications can result in pneumonia, respiratory failure, acute respiratory distress syndrome, multi-organ failure (respiratory and kidney failure), sepsis and meningoencephalitis.

People showing symptoms should visit their doctor for assessment and treatment.

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About the Author(s)

Mindy Ward

Editor, Missouri Ruralist

Mindy resides on a small farm just outside of Holstein, Mo, about 80 miles southwest of St. Louis.

After graduating from the University of Missouri-Columbia with a bachelor’s degree in agricultural journalism, she worked briefly at a public relations firm in Kansas City. Her husband’s career led the couple north to Minnesota.

There, she reported on large-scale production of corn, soybeans, sugar beets, and dairy, as well as, biofuels for The Land. After 10 years, the couple returned to Missouri and she began covering agriculture in the Show-Me State.

“In all my 15 years of writing about agriculture, I have found some of the most progressive thinkers are farmers,” she says. “They are constantly searching for ways to do more with less, improve their land and leave their legacy to the next generation.”

Mindy and her husband, Stacy, together with their daughters, Elisa and Cassidy, operate Showtime Farms in southern Warren County. The family spends a great deal of time caring for and showing Dorset, Oxford and crossbred sheep.

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