Government Dedicates Nearly $200 Million to Contain US Bird Flu Outbreak

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Over half of the money is set to assist the overall effort to stop the virus, while the remaining funds will go to dairy farms affected by the bird flu outbreak.

As an incentive to contain and track the spread of Type A H5N1 influenza, known as the bird flu, the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is pledging almost $200 million to dairy farmers and other containment efforts. While about half of the money will be allocated for government organizations to closely track the spread, the remaining funds will directly benefit farmers whose cattle was infected as compensation for production losses.1

Furthermore, the government is hoping the funds will incentivize farmers in the many states experiencing outbreaks to test their dairy cattle, but dairy farmers are unsure of how much the funds will actually help.2

The government is hoping the funds will incentivize farmers in the many states experiencing outbreaks to test their dairy cattle. | image credit: Mikko Palonkorpi / stock.adobe.com

The government is hoping the funds will incentivize farmers in the many states experiencing outbreaks to test their dairy cattle. | image credit: Mikko Palonkorpi / stock.adobe.com

What’s the Issue?

Earlier this year, a dairy farmer tested positive for the bird flu. It was the first known human case in the US since April 2022. Although the risk of a bird flu outbreak in humans remains low, the government has swiftly acted to contain the spread. With the current outbreak existing in over 40 herds of dairy cattle across 9 states, the government has announced it is pledging nearly $200 million to contain the spread and increase testing.3

Regarding allocation of funds, $101 million will be dedicated to the CDC and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to test, track, and treat any animals or humans who come into contact with the virus. Another $98 million will be given to dairy farmers who will be provided up to $28,000 each to monitor their cattle. Farmers with infected cattle who have seen a loss in production due to effects of the virus will also be compensated.1,2

However, since the government’s recent announcements regarding an increase in cattle testing, many farmers are reluctant to allow the government to intervene. This is mainly because of how the government’s intervention could affect business. If farmers test positive, they may be forced to miss work and necessary compensation—not unlike the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic. If dairy cattle tests positive, it must be taken out of production, which is money being taken away from farmers.1,2

Despite farmers’ reluctance, the government has a detailed plan to allocate funds through the USDA. The allocation includes $100 offered to several dairy farms for the purchase of an in-line sampler, which increases dairy testing as products move along their normal process. The USDA is also offering farms $1500 to develop biosecurity plans and another $2000 to farms that treat their wasted milk before disposal.Finally, an additional $8 million will be given to the FDA to monitor and contain the spread within the US milk production market.2

READ MORE: Bird Flu Virus Detected in US for First Time in 2 Years

Why It Matters

Despite US health officials’ continued communication stating that there are low risks of an outbreak among humans, recent actions to stop the current spread in dairy cattle show that these organizations are taking the virus seriously. And aside from fund allocations and constant monitoring of the virus, the CDC is putting an even greater focus on communication and alerting the public of what to look out for regarding the bird flu.

  • With recent news about fund allocation to stop the spread of the bird flu, the CDC also updated the public on the current state of the virus in the US. First, the CDC stated that they are working closely with the 9 states containing infected cattle herds as well as continuing testing in symptomatic individuals. They have also begun state-led investigations and programs to monitor the spread of the virus in states affected. The CDC currently has multilingual and multidisciplinary teams on hand to assist dairy farms that may experience an increase of infected cattle.4
  • The CDC also updated the overall scope of bird flu in the US, giving the public current statistics on how the virus has adapted since it was first detected in humans this past March. As of right now, 42 herds of dairy cattle have reported positive cases of the virus in 9 different states—Idaho, Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Texas, South Dakota, Michigan, Ohio, and North Carolina.3,5 The virus is much more prominent in poultry, affecting over 9000 wild birds and millions of poultry livestock across almost all 50 states. However, like the virus’s mortality in cows, bird flu is very unlikely to reach humans, as only 2 have tested positive since 2022 amidst the growing number of positive cases among livestock.5

Expert Commentary

  • “There are some really significant resources that are being allocated to the owners of the cattle. But far less is being advocated to the workers who are in close contact and at high risk working in those milking parlors,” Elizabeth Strater, director of strategic campaigns for United Farm Workers, told CNN.2
  • “Genetic analysis of the human A(H5N1) virus and hundreds of cattle viruses indicate these viruses are still mainly avian in nature and do not currently have the ability to easily infect or spread among people. However, because of the potential for influenza viruses to constantly change, continual surveillance and preparedness efforts are critical, and CDC is taking measures to be ready in case the current risk assessment for the general public changes. The immediate goal is to prevent further spread of this virus between animals and people. CDC will continue to monitor these viruses and update and adjust guidance as needed,” wrote the CDC in its bird flu response update.4

READ MORE: Bird Flu Samples Found in Dairy Products Across the US

In Depth Insights

  • This is the third major update in the past few months from US officials warning of bird flu outbreaks. The first came when a cattle farmer in Texas tested positive for the virus in late March. Then in April, the CDC reacted to several reports of dairy products on grocery store shelves containing positive tests of bird flu. Although the CDC has been proactive in containing the spread, as well as experts reporting that a human outbreak of the virus is still unlikely, officials are hoping the recent fund allocation will put a significant halt to the spread of the bird flu.
  • Previously, as reports about the bird flu in dairy cattle circulated, many experts and news reporters likened the genesis of the outbreak to that of COVID-19 in 2020. Much was unknown about the dangers of the bird flu when a human tested positive a few months ago and much is still unknown now. However, with funds to increase testing and get a better grasp on the nationwide health issue, the CDC and other government agencies have since dedicated time, effort, and money to try to curb the spread of the bird flu in the US.

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References
1. Aleccia J, Stobbe M. US pledges money and other aid to help track and contain bird flu on dairy farms. AP News. May 10, 2024. Accessed May 13, 2024. https://apnews.com/article/bird-flu-dairy-cattle-h5n1-milk-0b46e7a28a20fe825d7a324a976bac22
2. Goodman B. US government announces new financial incentives for farms to stem the spread of bird flu in dairy cattle. CNN. May 10, 2024. Accessed May 14, 2024. https://www.cnn.com/2024/05/10/health/bird-flu-government-farm-incentives/index.html
3. Avian influenza current situation summary. CDC. May 13, 2024. Accessed May 14, 2024. https://www.cdc.gov/flu/avianflu/avian-flu-summary.htm
4. CDC A(H5N1) bird flu response update. CDC. May 10, 2024. Accessed May 14, 2024. https://www.cdc.gov/flu/avianflu/spotlights/2023-2024/bird-flu-response-update.html
5. Highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) detections in livestock. USDA. May 13, 2024. Accessed May 14, 2024. https://www.aphis.usda.gov/livestock-poultry-disease/avian/avian-influenza/hpai-detections/livestock
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