U.S. Dairy Industry Faces Bird Flu Challenges Amid Outbreak

As the U.S. dairy industry grapples with a bird flu outbreak spreading across dozens of farms and even to people, the egg industry provides a potential model for containment while also illustrating the challenges of eradicating the virus.

The current bird flu outbreak, which began in February 2022, has led to the culling of nearly 100 million chickens and turkeys. Although hot spots persist, their frequency has decreased due to biosecurity measures and coordinated efforts between companies and agricultural officials. as reported by AP News

While dairy farmers can adopt some of these safeguards, the vast differences between cows and chickens limit the lessons that can be directly applied.

Can Cows and Chickens Get the Same Illness?

Commonly known as bird flu because it is primarily spread by wild birds, the disease can also infect various mammals, including sea lions and skunks. Animals may contract the virus by eating infected birds or being exposed to contaminated environments. However, cows and chickens respond differently to the infection.

Bird flu is typically fatal to chickens and turkeys within days, necessitating immediate mass cullings. In contrast, cows are generally not fatally affected by the virus but can become more susceptible to other ailments such as bacterial pneumonia and udder infections, according to Russ Daly, an extension veterinarian at South Dakota State University.

Egg Industry’s Measures to Protect Chickens

The egg industry has implemented stringent biosecurity measures to curb the spread of bird flu. Workers are required to shower and change clothes before entering and leaving barns, and trucks are frequently washed with virus-killing solutions. Additionally, lasers and special fencing are used to deter wild birds.

“Egg operators have become clean freaks,” said Emily Metz, president of the American Egg Board. These measures have been crucial in preventing a more severe outbreak, despite the high cost and difficulty of maintaining such vigilance. told by Yahoo

Can Similar Measures Protect Cows and Dairy Workers?

While some biosecurity measures can be applied to dairies, the industry faces unique challenges. Restricting access to barns and requiring protective gear for workers can help, but the messy nature of dairy operations complicates efforts to maintain cleanliness. Disinfecting milking equipment between uses is impractical, although pasteurization ensures milk safety.

Keith Poulsen, director of the Wisconsin Veterinary Laboratory, suggests that the dairy industry could benefit from more formal and well-funded research organizations, similar to those in the poultry and pork industries, to respond more effectively to issues like bird flu.

New Efforts to Combat the Virus

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is set to test a vaccine for calves, potentially offering protection and reducing worker illness. The egg industry is also hopeful for the development of cost-effective and efficient vaccines for poultry that could be administered via drinking water, feed pellets, or even in egg inoculations.

Efforts to develop vaccines are becoming increasingly critical as the disease spreads to dairy cows and humans. “Part of what is being developed right now is finding a cost-effective and disease-resistant vaccination method,” said Jada Thompson, a University of Arkansas agriculture business professor.

These ongoing efforts aim to better manage and ultimately mitigate the impact of bird flu on both the dairy and egg industries.