Goat in Minnesota tests positive for H5N1 bird flu strain that’s on the WHO’s pandemic watchlist in first ever US case – as experts call it a ‘worrisome development’

Photo of author
Written By Rivera Claudia

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet consectetur pulvinar ligula augue quis venenatis. 

  • The young goat tested positive for highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI)
  • Its farm already had bird flu infected poultry, health officials said
  • READ MORE: World leaders meet in Davos to thrash out plan against ‘Disease X’

A goat in Minnesota has tested positive for bird flu, in the first case of bird flu in domestic livestock in US history.

The baby goat, who tested positive for highly pathogenic avian influenza strain H5N1, the strain of bird flu that has been spreading since 2022, was from a farm in Stevens County in the west of the state.

Officials suspect the goat caught the flu from the infected bird because the animals shared the same space and had access to a shared water source.

Dr Thomas Moore, an infectious diseases doctor at the University of Kansas, say it marks a ‘worrisome development’ because it shows the virus is edging closer to infecting other mammals and even humans.

It is rare for mammals to get bird flu because they have fewer of the receptors in their upper airways which the virus binds to.

The baby goat, who tested positive for highly pathogenic avian influenza strain H5N1, the strain of bird flu that has been spreading since 2022, was from a farm in Stevens County in the west of the state

Officials suspect the goat caught the flu from the infected bird because the animals shared the same space and had access to a shared water source (stock image)

Officials suspect the goat caught the flu from the infected bird because the animals shared the same space and had access to a shared water source (stock image)

All animals have been quarantined and there is an ‘extremely low’ risk to the public, with only those who have been in direct contact to the animals at risk, the Minnesota Board of Animal Health.

While there doesn’t appear to be any mutation this time, experts told DailyMail.com the longer the virus is around in mammals undetected, the more chance it has to mutate.

The farm already had a an outbreak of H5N1 in poultry in February, and the birds had been quarantined in an attempt to stop the spread.

Health officials are still investigating how the virus was transmitted, and the board said it has quarantined all other species on the farm.

‘Thankfully, research to-date has shown mammals appear to be dead-end hosts, which means they’re unlikely to spread HPAI further.’

Animals with weakened immune systems, such as baby goats in this case, are at higher risk of contracting disease in general.

But Dr Moore told DailyMail.com that it was reminder that at any point, bird flu could acquire a mutation that makes it transmissible to humans.

He said: ‘It’s obviously a worrisome development. Because you don’t know, where it ends? …The virus is constantly replicating and we don’t really know where it’s going to end.

‘I think it’s reasonable to assume this is the only goat that’s infected. Particularly if you have documented infection and poultry nearby.’

He added: ‘The thing is that make it makes you worry a little bit is whether it’s transmissible to wild birds in the area who can then transport it. You can do all the quarantine you want to goats and domestic poultry but if you think you have wild birds acting as a vector, then it can spread widely.’ 

Dr Brian Hoefs, the state veterinarian, said: ‘This finding is significant because, while the spring migration is definitely a higher risk transmission period for poultry, it highlights the possibility of the virus infecting other animals on farms with multiple species.’

No one has become ill after being in contact with mammals infected with bird flu.

In August 2023, two people in Michigan were diagnosed with swine flu after being exposed to infected pigs at county fairs.

Like all flus, the virus is spread primarily through droplets in the air which are breathed in or get into a person's mouth, eyes or nose

Like all flus, the virus is spread primarily through droplets in the air which are breathed in or get into a person’s mouth, eyes or nose

The current bird flu outbreak has been raging for almost two years, touching every corner of the world including Antarctica for the first time. 

Experts have warned that increasing cases in mammals could lead to a recombination event — when two viruses, such as avian flu and seasonal flu, switch genetic material to make a new hybrid.

A similar process is thought to have caused the global 2009 swine flu crisis that infected millions across the planet.

For decades, scientists have warned that bird flu is the most likely contender for triggering the next pandemic.

This could see a deadly strain of bird flu merge with a transmissible seasonal flu.

In the UK, a December report showed four samples from the infected otters and foxes ‘show the presence of a mutation which is associated with potential advantages for mammalian infection’.

The UKHSA warned that the ‘rapid and consistent acquisition of the mutation in mammals may imply this virus has a propensity to cause zoonotic infections’ — meaning it could potentially spread to humans.

Yuko Sato, a poultry extension veterinarian and diagnostician from Iowa State University, told DailyMail.com that there appears to be no mutation between the virus received from the goat and the virus received from the chicken.

‘Thankfully, it seems like there’s it’s just a horizontal spread,’ she said.

But she added: ‘The biggest risk is probably just having the virus just being around in different groups of animals undetected.

‘The longer the virus is around it, the more ability it has to mutate. As soon as there’s something wrong, I think it was great that [the farmers in Minnesota] had it diagnosed really quickly and investigated, because the longer it festers, the more problems there’s going to be.’ 

On whether it raises the risk of human spillover, she said: ‘I don’t know yet. But this virus seems to be more likely to have that potential compared to the past virus in 2015.’ 

The last case of bird flu in a commercial flock of birds in America was in June 2015. 

An outbreak of bird flu occurred between December 2014 and June 2015, with more than 200 cases of bird flu in both backyard poultry and wild birds.

Bird flu led to the slaughter of five million birds in the US in 2023 in an attempt to prevent an outbreak.

Last year, Dr Sylvie Briand, the WHO’s director of epidemic and pandemic preparedness and prevention, said: ‘The global H5N1 situation is worrying given the wide spread of the virus in birds around the world and the increasing reports of cases in mammals including humans.’

H5N1 was first detected in chickens in Scotland in 1959, and again in China and Hong Kong in 1996. It first was detected in humans in 1997.

Human-to-human transmission of H5N1 is incredibly rare, but not impossible. In 1997, officials confirmed 18 H5N1 cases in Hong Kong, some of which were acquired through human-to-human transmission. The outbreak stayed relatively small, though. And did not spiral into a massive issue at either the local or global level.

This recent outbreak has caused particular concern. More than 15million domesticated birds, and countless wild animals, have been struck down by the virus.

There is nothing to be done that can prevent the spread among wild birds, but officials are working to keep domesticated populations away from them. In the UK, all farmed chickens are now required to stay indoors.

SOURCE

Leave a Comment

ArT ArT ArT ArT ArT ArT ArT ArT ArT ArT ArT ArT ArT ArT ArT ArT ArT ArT ArT ArT ArT ArT ArT ArT ArT ArT ArT ArT ArT ArT ArT ArT ArT ArT ArT ArT ArT ArT ArT ArT ArT ArT ArT ArT ArT ArT ArT ArT ArT ArT ArT ArT ArT ArT ArT ArT ArT ArT ArT ArT ArT ArT ArT