Bird flu confirmed in eastern New Mexico dairy cows

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) — It’s a disease normally associated with wild birds in North America, but now, for the first time, it’s showing up in dairy cows, including in New Mexico.

NewsNation affiliate KRQE asked a state veterinarian what this means for New Mexicans.

“The biggest concern is the unknown, right? This is all new ground for us and influenza as a virus is one of those viruses that changes,” said Dr. Samantha Uhrig, state veterinarian with the New Mexico Livestock Board.

Just minutes before KRQE spoke with her, Uhrig received the news that Avian Influenza, or bird flu, was confirmed in dairy cows in eastern New Mexico.

When asked how frequently we see bird flu in cows, Uhrig responded: “Well, we don’t. We didn’t think we had seen it before. So, this is relatively new, what we call an ’emerging’ disease.”

Uhrig said health officials were first alerted to the new virus three weeks ago.

“It does look like, at least as far as we’re aware, it started in Texas and spread through the panhandle primarily,” she said.

The National Veterinary Services Lab confirmed the results for New Mexico.

“We can identify to the county level just for the protection of course of those folks, but Curry County is where it has been identified,” Uhrig said.

She said the most consistent symptoms in cows that have bird flu is a drop in milk production and feed consumption.

“They have shown very little respiratory disease. It all seems to be very much focused on the mammary tissue and the milk,” Uhrig stated.

So, what does this mean for New Mexican consumers?

Uhrig said pasteurization of the milk of any affected cow kills the virus, and affected milk should never make it to store shelves anyway.

“Milk from cows that are experiencing any sort of abnormal symptoms is diverted away from the food supply,” Uhrig said.

Uhrig said no cows have died from this new virus.

“Actually, surprisingly, the number of cattle on dairies that have been affected has been very low, an average of 10% of the milking herd is affected, and of those cows, it has not caused any mortalities,” Uhrig said. “Many of them come back into full milk and have no lingering symptoms to our knowledge at this point.”

For now, the state is keeping an eye on the affected herd and reporting to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“Obviously, we’re early enough in the disease that we’re still monitoring those cattle to see how they do,” Uhrig said. “So, now the questions are: How did this happen? What does this look like going forward? And these are the things that we are all working together to try to figure out.”

Another development Monday: the Centers for Disease Control says a person in Texas has contracted this new bird flu from a cow and is now said to be recovering.

Uhrig said those most at risk of contracting the virus are people in direct contact with cattle, but the general public is not at great risk.


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