Scientists expand H5N1 testing in dairy products, launch human serology study

dairy milk


The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is expanding its H5N1 avian flu testing to a wider range of dairy products to help fill in knowledge gaps, and a Michigan-led group has launched a human serology study to examine exposure impacts in workers exposed to sick cows.

The updates were revealed today in research agenda updates from federal agencies, with officials sharing more details at a US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) media briefing.

FDA casts wider testing net for dairy products

At the briefing, Don Prater, DVM, acting director of the FDA's Center for Food Safety and Nutrition, said the FDA last week launched a second round of testing in retail products to fill remaining gaps in knowledge about the status of products from different geographic areas and about a wider variety of products, which will include aged raw-milk cheese, cream cheese, butter, and ice cream.

In an update on its website, the FDA said it will test 155 dairy products collected from retail outlets for H5N1.

The FDA also said it has multiple research efforts under way to understand the effectiveness of pasteurization and other inactivation measures. "We have been actively engaged in conducting studies using continuous flow pasteurization equipment, reflective of those in commercial use, to help confirm pasteurization parameters that are effective at inactivating H5N1 HPAI [highly pathogenic avian influenza] virus during milk processing," it said.

Human serology study launches in Michigan

In other developments, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) yesterday posted its research agenda, and Demetre Daskalakis, MD, who directs the CDC's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said the CDC is providing technical assistance to Michigan health officials, who have launched a seroprevalence study in people who work with infected cows. He said a key goal is to see if asymptomatic infections are occurring in the risk group.

The CDC spelled out three main research objectives, including preventing illness in people exposed to H5N1, with assessing antiviral effectiveness as one of the focus areas. Other objectives include understanding infection in people, including estimating the incubation period, and preparing for and mitigating the possibility of an H5N1 pandemic.

So far, more than 690 people exposed to sick cattle have been monitored, and at least 51 with flulike symptoms have been tested, Daskalakis said. The number of human infections related to H5N1 outbreaks in dairy cows remains at three.

USDA enrolls more farms in health and compensation programs

In animal developments, Eric Deeble, DVM, Acting Senior Advisor for US Department of Agriculture (USDA) H5N1 response, told reported that the first herds in four states have enrolled in a voluntary H5N1 dairy herd status program, which was first announced at the end of May. The program is designed to give farmers more ways to monitor the health of their herds while streamlining the shipping of cows and providing ongoing information to the USDA.

The herds are in Texas, New Mexico, Nebraska, and Kansas.

Deeble said 20 herds are enrolled in USDA financial support programs, such as compensation for a loss of milk production, a number that he says is growing every day.

The testing at the USDA's National Veterinary Services Laboratory has confirmed 126 outbreaks from 12 states, with the most recent confirmations from Colorado and Iowa.

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