US reports its first case of bird flu found in alpacas

The risk for humans contracting the virus remains low, the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control said.
Alpacas on a farm in Oregon
Posted at 4:48 PM, May 29, 2024

A case of highly pathogenic avian influenza has been detected in alpacas for the first time, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced Tuesday.

The small group of alpacas, which are members of the camel family, tested positive for the highly pathogenic virus after a poultry flock on the same farm became infected, according to the University of Minnesota’s Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy.

The USDA said the positive test results for the alpacas were not a surprise since the livestock on the southern Idaho farm share a habitat.

Officials said that the virus found in the alpacas has the same genotype as the virus that is currently infecting dairy cows and poultry across the U.S.

It’s not uncommon for mammals like alpacas to catch the virus. According to the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service avian flu data, cases have been found in domestic cats, red foxes, opossums, raccoons and bobcats within the last month.

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The risk for humans contracting the virus remains low, the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control said.

There have only been three confirmed cases of bird flu infecting humans in the U.S. since 2022. Two of those cases were reported this year, and both were farmworkers who had been exposed to infected dairy cows.

As of May 2, almost every state has suffered an outbreak of the virus in its poultry livestock — totaling over 92 million birds. Experts have warned the ongoing outbreak could impact egg and chicken supplies.

Chickens stand in their cages at a farm

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Nine states have reported outbreaks of bird flu in 67 dairy cattle herds. Michigan’s dairy farms have suffered more than any other state, with 21 herds testing positive for the virus.

Since the first cases of bird flu were detected in dairy cows back in March, the USDA has implemented several new regulations as a precaution, including mandatory testing for dairy cows that are moved from one state to another, and barring milk from sick cows from entering the market, even though the Food and Drug Administration has maintained that pasteurization has kept the milk supply safe.

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Although no cases have been reported in beef cattle, the USDA’s Food Safety Inspection Service tested samples of ground beef sold at grocery stores for the presence of avian flu and those tests came back negative.

The agency also tested tissue and muscle samples from cull dairy cows, which are dairy cows that are sent to slaughter for various reasons, at its mandated facility. Out of the 96 samples examined, only one contained viral particles which the USDA said provides further confidence that “the food safety system we have in place is working.”

Dairy cows stand together at a farm.

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