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Bird flu virus circulated cows four months outbreak confirmed USDA analysis shows

USDA scientists uncover genetic clues behind H5N1 bird flu in U.S. dairy cattle, sparking concerns of virus evolution and transmission.

The H5N1 avian influenza virus has caused a stir as it has made its way into U.S. dairy cattle herds, leaving agricultural authorities and epidemiologists scrambling to understand the extent of the outbreak. By analyzing genetic data from infected cows, researchers have been able to trace the virus back to a single spillover event from wild birds in the Texas panhandle. This event likely occurred in early December, with the USDA confirming the presence of H5N1 in a Texas herd in late March.

The analysis of viral genomes has provided valuable insights into the origins and spread of the outbreak, shedding light on how the virus is evolving as it adapts to its new bovine hosts. Previous reports from academic scientists indicated that the outbreak in dairy cows had been ongoing for longer than initially thought, with the virus spreading more widely than official numbers suggested. The USDA has reported cases in 36 herds across nine states.

The ability of the H5N1 virus to efficiently transmit between mammals, specifically from birds to cattle, is a concerning development. This marks one of the first instances where the virus has successfully crossed the species barrier, highlighting the need for vigilance in monitoring its evolution. Mutations in the virus observed in dairy cattle have raised concerns about increased virulence and potential risks to human health. However, current data from the CDC does not indicate an immediate threat.

Despite criticism of the USDA for delays in sharing data, the release of a preprint detailing the genetic analysis of the virus has been welcomed by the scientific community. Researchers are eager to understand how the virus is changing as it spreads among cattle, and the availability of this data is crucial for tracking its progress. The USDA has committed to sharing more comprehensive sequence data with necessary metadata to aid in further research and analysis.

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