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As bird flu spreads within dairy operations, experts want more testing

Andi Taranczuk - stock.adobe.com

Across the U.S, there's been intense monitoring of avian flu jumping from birds to dairy cattle.

So far, no cases have surfaced in Wisconsin's milk production, but experts say more testing is needed to prevent the spread.

Technically known as H5N1, what's called bird flu has been detected in dairy cows in several other states.

And in Texas, a man is known to have become ill with bird flu last month after contact with infected dairy cattle.

That worries Andrew Pekosz - Ph.D, professor, and vice chair of the W. Harry Feinstone Department of Molecular Microbiology and Immunology - with the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health.

"Given that dairy farms have a large number of people who come in contact with infected cows," said Pekosz, "there is an increased chance of the H5N1 virus also directly infecting humans, and beginning that process of adapting to replication and spread within humans themselves."

He said the risk to the general public is still very low, but the U.S. should improve its response to new and emerging infections to minimize the chance of another pandemic.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture recently announced it will pay dairy farms with confirmed avian flu infections to help contain the virus' spread to people and more cows.

In Texas, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed the virus killed a dozen cats who drank raw cow's milk.

Due to extensive federal food checks prior to human consumption, Meghan Davis - Ph.D, and associate professor in the Johns Hopkins Department of Environmental Health and Engineering - said she believes it's safe to eat poultry and drink milk, with one exception.

"Raw milk and raw milk products may not undergo the same processes to inactivate the virus," said Davis, "and so, I have very large concerns about the safety of raw milk."

To date, federal officials only mandate testing for dairy cows moving between states.

Wisconsin has long embraced its reputation as a milk-producing state. In most rankings, it only trails California in this category.

Mike Moen is the Morning Edition producer and serves as a staff reporter for WNIJ. Every morning, he works with Dan Klefstad to bring listeners the latest Illinois news. He also works with the rest of the news staff on developing and producing in-depth stories. Mike is a Minnesota native who likes movies, history, and baseball. When most people hear his last name, they assume he is 100-percent Scandinavian. But, believe it or not, he is mostly German.
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