USDA map of the United States with HPAI confirmed cases in livestock

Bovine HPAI H5N1: An Evolving Situation

Dr. Julie SmithAnimal Health, Livestock diseases, Planning, Policy

The initial introduction of HPAI into a dairy herd in 2024Opens a new window is considered a spillover event from birds. It was first identified in herds in Texas, Kansas, and Michigan after ruling out many other causes of the “mystery disease.” Subsequent spread appears to be related to direct contact spread through the movement of animals and indirect contacts like personnel, equipment, and vehicles.

The USDA has moved quickly to understand where the disease is and how it is spread, and also enact policies to support testing, disease prevention (biosecurity) measures, and farmworker health. Because of the zoonotic potential of the avian influenza virus, concerns for human health in the workplace and safety of the food supply are being addressed by other federal agencies including the CDC and FDA (both under HHS). Testing of milk, meat, waste water are among the activities conducted as described in the May 10 press releaseOpens a new window.

The USDA has been publishing confirmed detections since March 25, 2024. On this USDA websiteOpens a new window, select the link below the first two paragraphs to go to the map and table of known affected herds by state. USDA does not release the names and locations of affected premises to the public.

As herds in more states became affected, a Federal Order went into effect on April 29, 2024, restricting interstate movements of lactating dairy cows and establishing associated requirements for testing and documentation. State animal health authorities worked together to develop a process for simplifying the movement of lactating animals going directly to slaughter. In many cases, a specific owner-shipper statement can be used. This form and additional guidance from the state veterinarian can be found on individual state websites.

Additional support for testing, prevention, and worker protectionsOpens a new window on affected farms was announced on May 10, 2024. Farms that install an in-line sampler for their milk system are eligible for $100 compensation. Funding is also available to support enhanced biosecurity (secure milk supply) plan development and implementation. Additional funding is available for personal protective equipment for employees on affected premises that participate in a farmworker health study.

The May 10th announcement also addressed milk disposal and animal treatment costs. Affected farms that can heat treat milk that needs disposed of will receive $2000 per month. Treatment and testing costs, including supplies and veterinary costs, up to $10,000 from the date of positive test confirmation by USDA, are also eligible for reimbursement.  Sample shipment costs can be offset up to $50 per shipment and two shipments per month.   

On May 23, all farms (not just affected ones) became eligible for support for biosecurity plan development and installation of an in-line sampler. Testing for H5N1 has been offered at no charge right along, but with the May 23rd announcement, USDA made available funds to cover veterinary fees and shipping costs (with some limitations) going back to April 29. USDA also indicated it was working on a final rule to make funds available for milk production losses through the Emergency Assistance for Livestock, Honey Bees, and Farm-raised Fish Program (ELAP).

The description of the ELAP programOpens a new window was released by FSA on June 27, 2024 (and will be published in the Federal Register on July 1). For eligible producers, this program covers a portion of the value of milk losses for a period before and after confirmation of infection.

On May 30, USDA announced a voluntary H5N1 dairy herd status pilot programOpens a new window. Herds in participating states were able to begin enrolling on June 3. Herds with negative bulk milk test results on the required testing schedule can then move animals without testing individual animals.

The USDA website is the most up-to-date source of information on the outbreak and related resources.

Your state veterinarian is the go-to source of information on procedures for moving animals and participating in the voluntary dairy herd status program. Your state also may have additional rules regarding animal shows, exhibitions, and fairs.

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About the Author

Dr. Julie Smith

Dr. Julie Smith is a research professor at the University of Vermont. Julie received her B.S. in biological sciences, D.V.M., and Ph.D. in animal nutrition at Cornell University. Since 2002, she has applied her veterinary background to programs in the areas of herd health, calf and heifer management, and agricultural emergency management. She has taught courses in animal welfare, calf biology and management, and ABCs of biosecurity to undergraduates, mostly in the Department of Animal and Veterinary Sciences. As a veterinarian and spouse of a dairy farmer, Julie is well aware of the animal health and well-being concerns of dairy animals. Julie has conducted trainings for Extension educators, livestock producers, and community members on the risks posed by a range of animal diseases, whether they already exist in the United States, exist outside of the United States, or pose a risk to both animal and human health. In all cases, she emphasizes the importance of awareness and prevention. In addition, she has led a number of projects on biosecurity and emergency disease preparedness.