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    HPAI In Domesticated Ruminants: FAQ

    Recent detections of highly pathogenic avian influenza (“HPAI”) have been alarming caregivers. Please read on to learn more.

    This resource was originally published on March 29, 2024. It was most recently updated on April 11, 2024.

    Click Here For HPAI Updates In Domesticated Ruminants In The U.S.
    March 20, 2024 – The Minnesota Board Of Animal Health (MBAH) announced the first detection of HPAI in a domesticated ruminant in the U.S. after a goat kid in Stevens County tested positive. Earlier in March, MBAH was notified about unusual deaths in newborn goats who were born on the same property where HPAI had been detected in domesticatedAdapted over time (as by selective breeding) from a wild or natural state to life in close association with and to the benefit of humans birds. The goat kids were born only days after the birds on the property had been killed as part of regional control efforts to stop the spread of disease. The goats and birds on this property not only shared the same space but also had access to a shared water source. According to MBAH, the adult goats on the property all appear healthy and have tested negative for HPAI. Additionally, there have been no reports of sick goat kids on the property since March 11. MBAH announced that they are working with the USDAThe United States Department of Agriculture, a government department that oversees agriculture and farmed animals. to investigate this case.

    March 25, 2024 – The USDA announced that diagnostic samples from dairies in Texas and Kansas had tested positive for HPAI. These samples were taken from sick cows. Testing for HPAI was initiated because deceased wild birds had been found on the properties, and according to the USDA, the virus appears to have been introduced by wild birds. At the affected dairies, about 10% of the cows were affected, but no deaths were reported. 

    March 28, 2024 – The Idaho Department of Agriculture announced that it had identified highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) in a Cassia County dairy cow operation. The Department noted that the affected facility recently imported cows from another state that had previously identified cases of HPAI in cows.

    March 29, 204 – The Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development announced that it had identified HPAI in dairy cows located in Montcalm County. The department notes that this facility recently received cows from an affected premises in Texas before that herd showed any sign of disease.

    March 29, 2024 – The USDA, FDA and CDC shared an update regarding HPAI detections in dairy cows. This announcement mentioned confirmed detections in Kansas, Texas, and Michigan herds, as well as additional presumptive positive results in Idaho, New Mexico, and Texas. They also issued this FAQ regarding the detection of HPAI in cows.

    April 1, 2024 – The CDC announced that a human in the United States has tested positive for HPAI as reported by Texas and confirmed by CDC. This person had exposure to dairy cows in Texas presumed to be infected with HPAI A(H5N1) viruses. The patient reported eye redness (consistent with conjunctivitis), as their only symptom, and is recovering.

    April 1, 2024 – The USDA confirmed the detection of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) in dairy cows in New Mexico as well as in 5 additional herds in Texas.

    April 2, 2024 – The USDA confirmed the detection of HPAI in dairy cows in Wood County, Ohio.

    *From this point forward in the list, we will list only the first detection in domesticated ruminants in each state*

    April 9, 2024 – The USDA confirmed the detection of HPAI in a cow dairy herd in North Carolina and in South Dakota


    With the recent detections of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) in domesticated ruminants, caregivers are likely wondering what this latest development means and how they can continue to keep their residents safe. This is an evolving situation, and so, unfortunately, there is much we do not know. In this resource, we’ll discuss the current situation as of April 4, 2024 and do our best to answer some of the questions that are coming up as a result of these detections of HPAI in domesticated ruminants. We will update reports of ongoing detections in the toggle box above, and provide additional guidance as information develops. You can also keep track of ongoing detections of HPAI in cows at the USDA’s site dedicated to the subject here.

    What Is Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza?

    Avian influenza refers to any disease or infection in birds caused by Type A influenza viruses. Virus strains are categorized as highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) or low pathogenic avian influenza (LPAI.) Most Type A influenza viruses are low pathogenic, found worldwide, and can frequently be found in apparently healthy migrating waterfowl and shorebirds. In domesticated birds, low pathogenic AI viruses typically have low morbidity and mortality rates. HPAI, however, carries a high morbidity and mortality rate.
    Highly pathogenic Eurasian H5 avian influenza was detected in wild birds in early 2022 after not being detected in a wild bird in the United States since 2016, and shortly afterward, HPAI was detected at a commercial turkey farm. Since the start of the current outbreak, every state except Hawaii has had confirmed cases of HPAI in wild and/or domesticated birds. For more information on current cases, please refer to the USDA APHIS website.

    Where Can I Find Your Existing Advice On HPAI?

    You can learn more about HPAI in our full resource on the subject here. If you need a quick refresher, or some easily digestible information, you can find our FAQ on the subject here. For infographics that you can use at your sanctuary to remind staff and volunteers of precautions you should take, you can find those here.

    What Are The Recent Developments With HPAI In Domesticated Ruminants?

    As of this writing, there have been reports of HPAI in domesticated ruminants in seven U.S. states. While these are the first reported cases in domesticated ruminants in the U.S., they are not the first cases in mammals. Since 2022, the USDA has tracked over 200 detections of HPAI in mammals. You can find more information about these detections here, and also above in our toggle box which will list all recent updates that either state or federal agencies have confirmed. To find an FAQ from the USDA on recent detections, please click here.

    What Does This Mean For Sanctuaries?

    We don’t yet know whether we will see more domesticated ruminants affected by HPAI, but these detections highlight the fact that HPAI continues to be a major threat. While it is certainly concerning that domesticated ruminants are now being affected, it’s important to remember that farmed bird species face a two-pronged threat from this disease. 

    Not only are they at risk from the disease itself (which carries a high mortality rate in birds such as chickens and turkeys), but they are also at risk of regional efforts to control disease spread via the compulsory killing of birds on an affected premise (for more information on on the legal implications of an HPAI detection in domesticated birds on your property, check out our comprehensive resource here, or you can find our FAQ on the subject of HPAI and the law here). Given the significant risk to farmed bird species, caregivers must continue to take appropriate steps to protect their avian residents (which you can read more about here). 

    Caregivers, understandably, want to know what these recent developments mean for the domesticated ruminants in their care. Unfortunately, there’s still a lot we don’t know. Federal and state agencies are conducting additional testing to better understand the current situation, and haven’t shared much more than the information we’ve shared here. We want to avoid speculating or sharing information that is inaccurate or misinterpreted, so we’re going to stick to sharing from official sources and updating reported detections from these sources in the toggle box above. 

    It does appear that individuals with a weakened or immature immune system are believed to be most at risk of HPAI, and this would explain why the newborn goat kids on the Minnesota farm were affected but the adults were not. In the cow cases in Texas and Kansas, only about 10% of the cows in affected herds became sick, and according to the AVMA, with supportive care, most cows recover in two to three weeks. So far, there have been no confirmed deaths associated with HPAI in cows. While the best case scenario would be for domesticated ruminants not to be affected at all by HPAI, this current data suggests that domesticated ruminants are not impacted as significantly as chickens, turkeys, and other farmed bird species, though clearly newborns, who have an immature immune system, are at risk of serious, and potentially fatal disease. However, without knowing more about the care these goat kids received (for example, did they receive colostrum, were they born into a clean environment, did they receive immediate veterinary care, etc.), it’s hard to know if the severity of the disease seen in the goat kids was impacted by other factors or not.

    In addition to the details described above, it’s also worth pointing out that to date, the governmental response to these detections has been very different from the current response to detections in farmed bird species. Whereas a positive detection in a farmed bird will result in the compulsory killing of all domesticated birds on the premise, the information shared suggests that positive detections in domesticated ruminants are handled differently.

    We can typically look to the USDA’s Red Book Response Plans for information about what governmental agencies will do if certain diseases are detected, but the HPAI Red Book offers only very general guidance regarding HPAI in species other than “poultry,” stating simply that infected animals will be “appropriately monitored” and that other measures may be applied. While this may be good news for our ruminant residents, we do worry about what a positive detection in a ruminant would mean for avian residents, should there also happen to be avians on the property.

    What Should Sanctuaries Do?

    Given that this is still a developing situation, one of the most important things to do is to stay informed. We recommend watching for updates from the USDA, AVMA, and your state’s board of animal health. Additionally, we recommend contacting your veterinarian for more information. They will likely be your best source of information and can offer more specific guidance as the situation develops based on the specifics of your sanctuary and your region. 

    We encourage sanctuaries to revisit their biosecurity plan (or to create one if they haven’t already). If you care for birds, you absolutely need to be taking steps to protect your residents. If your animal sanctuary is located in an area where avian influenza is currently a concern, keeping detailed, accurate records of the steps you’re taking to prevent its spread at your organization is critical, should the virus be detected nearby. To help organizations stay organized in their HPAI recordkeeping, we’ve developed a simple spreadsheet with sections for some of the key tasks caregivers must perform to keep their avian residents safe. Check out our HPAI biosecurity plan and checklist for more information on these strategies!

    In addition to preventing direct and indirect contact between wild and domesticated birds, if you currently house avian and mammal species together (or if you give them separate access to the same spaces), we recommend you take immediate steps to house them separately.

    While it’s unlikely that sanctuaries can prevent all direct and indirect contact between their ruminant residents and wild birds, it’s a good idea to look at your current practices and see if there are things you can do to lessen this exposure. For example, consider if there are ways you can protect drinking water and hay from possible contamination from wild birds. Even if you can’t fully exclude wild birds, perhaps you can take steps to lessen the risk. For example, if you have a water trough under a tree, perhaps you can move it to another area where wild birds are less likely to congregate (and possibly defecate in the water). Ponds and other natural bodies of water are potential sources of exposure, so it’s wise to restrict your residents’ access to these water sources. 

    Because the current data suggests that very young neonatal ruminants are most vulnerable, if you rescue very young neonatal ruminants or are caring for pregnant ruminants, we recommend talking to your veterinarian about additional measures you can implement to reduce the chance of vulnerable babies being exposed to HPAI.

    Robust quarantine is always important when taking in new residents, and given all the unknowns with this current situation, it’s even more important to ensure you are doing all you can to prevent the spread of disease from new rescues to other residents. You can read more about quarantine here.  

    Is Avian Influenza Contagious to Humans? 

    Transmission from birds to humans is possible, though uncommon. While there has been one case recorded in the United States of HPAI being transmitted from birds to a human, which occurred in Colorado in 2022, there have been additional reports globally. Humans can also become infected by mammalian species. On April 1, 2024, the CDC reported that a human had contracted HPAI from a cow in Texas. In order to protect both your residents and the humans who come into contact with them, we strongly recommend housing avian and mammalian residents separately from one another. Observing careful hygiene (including handwashing) and wearing masks can mitigate the risk of transmission, and this is particularly important if a resident is showing signs of illness. Additional interim recommendations from the CDC are available here. You can find more information about cases of avian influenza in humans in this update from the World Health Organization.


    Advanced Topics In Resident Health: Avian Influenza (Vet Reviewed) | The Open Sanctuary Project 

    Avian Influenza FAQ | The Open Sanctuary Project 

    Avian Influenza Infographic | The Open Sanctuary Project 

    Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza: Your Sanctuary And The Law | The Open Sanctuary Project

    Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza And The Law: FAQ For Animal Sanctuaries And Rescues | The Open Sanctuary Project

    HPAI Record-Keeping Template | The Open Sanctuary Project 

    HPAI Biosecurity Plan & Checklist | The Open Sanctuary Project

    Agricultural Cooperative Extension Services: What Can They Do For Animal Sanctuaries | The Open Sanctuary Project

    Biosecurity Part 2: Creating And Implementing A Biosecurity Plan | The Open Sanctuary Project

    Establishing A Safe And Effective Quarantine Policy | The Open Sanctuary Project

    Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) Detections in Livestock | United States Department Of Agriculture (Non-Compassionate Source)

    HPAI / APHIS Website | U.S. Department Of Agriculture (Non-Compassionate Source)

    HPAI / OIE Website | U.S. Department Of Agriculture (Non-Compassionate Source)

    2022-2024 Detections of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza in Mammals | U.S. Department Of Agriculture (Non-Compassionate Source)

    AVMA News | American Veterinary Medical Association (Non-Compassionate Source)

    Detection Of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza In Dairy Herds: Frequently Asked Questions | U.S. Department of Agriculture (Non-Compassionate Source)

    U.S. Case of Human Avian Influenza A(H5) Virus Reported | Centers For Disease Control And Prevention (Non-Compassionate Source)

    Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza A (H5N1) Virus Infection Reported in a Person in the U.S. | Centers For Disease Control And Prevention (Non-Compassionate Source)

    Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza A(H5N1) Virus in Animals: Interim Recommendations for Prevention, Monitoring, and Public Health Investigations | Centers For Disease Control And Prevention (Non-Compassionate Source)

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