CDC unveils dashboard to track bird flu as virus spreads among dairy farms

A new dashboard from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention aims to help track the spread of bird flu as the federal government looks to monitor and contain the virus.

So far, the virus has largely affected dairy cows and has not posed a high threat to humans. But as the virus has shown the ability to transfer from species to species, the CDC is ramping up its response.

On Tuesday, the agency released a variety of data, including information on wastewater sampling sites that have tested positive for influenza A, of which the avian influenza (H5N1) is a subtype.

The new dashboard presents the data in the form of graphs and charts, comparing positive tests in a region to the same time a year prior.

"By tracking the percentage of specimens tested that are positive for influenza A viruses, we can monitor for unusual increases in influenza activity that may be an early sign of spread of novel influenza A viruses, including H5N1," the CDC said in its report.

See the bird flu dashboard on the CDC website.

Bird flu graphic: A visual guide on avian bird flu outbreak and how it's affecting dairy cows

What data does the CDC dashboard include?

While the CDC monitors cases of the flu year round, the new dashboard is meant to serve as a tool to ramp up surveillance efforts of bird flu cases at the national, state and local levels.

The agency is monitoring 260 people who have been exposed to dairy cows infected with H5N1. In a bit of good news, for the week ended May 10, the agency's surveillance system did not otherwise show any indications of unusual flu activity in people, including the H5N1 virus.

The first-ever reported bird flu case infecting a human occurred in 2022 following exposure to infected poultry, the CDC said. A second case was reported this year in Texas following exposure to infected dairy cattle.

The CDC has also been testing wastewater from sewers to detect mutations in the virus that could make it spread more easily among humans.

For the week ending May 4, 189 wastewater sampling sites across the U.S. showed higher-than-average levels of influenza A and required further analysis, the CDC said. In Saline County, Kansas, influenza A levels were particularly high, the data show.

"The data from these sites are being closely monitored by CDC and its partners to identify potential contributing factors, including assessing whether any of the high levels are related to any human illness," the CDC said in its report.

The CDC cautioned that wastewater monitoring methods aren't yet capable of distinguishing between subtypes of influenza A, meaning that the bird flu cannot be accurately detected this way. Wastewater testing is also incapable of determining the source of the influenza A virus – it could come from a human, from animals or from animal products like milk.

"Efforts to monitor influenza A virus activity using wastewater data are likely to evolve as the methodologies and interpretation are evaluated and refined," the CDC said.

Bird flu has been spreading to dairy cows in US

Health officials have expressed growing concern over the recent spread of the avian flu virus, which has already passed from birds to other animals, including cows.

So far, a total of 42 cattle herds at farms in nine states have been infected, according to federal officials.

To contain the virus' spread, the federal government has increased direct financial aid to dairy farms and testing tools for dairy workers and cattle. The additional $28,000 in funding per impacted farm would expand testing, underwrite costs for farms that provide protective gear for workers and compensate farms for veterinary bills and lost milk production in the next four months.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services also will spend $101 million on testing and prevention efforts, while the CDC will spend $93 million to expand testing and monitoring of the virus.

Risk to general public remains low

The larger concern is that the virus might evolve to become easily transmitted to people. Bird flu is considered more dangerous than the annual flu because it's a strain humans have never encountered and it's likely to be highly contagious.

"There's no current evidence of sustained human-to-human transmission," Dr. Raj Panjabi of Harvard Medical School and the former White House senior director for global health security and biodefense on the United States National Security Council, told USA TODAY. "It's the moment to get ready to step up investments in public health, especially around prevention, protection and preparedness,"

Federal officials said last week that the latest round of testing proves the commercial milk supply is safe, as are milk-based products like cottage cheese and sour cream.

However, agencies like the CDC, FDA and USDA are warning consumers to not drink unpasteurized milk, which may harbor the virus. Testing reaffirmed that pasteurization kills the bird flu.

If the bird flu begins transmitting from person to person, vaccines and antivirals should be available, officials said.

Contributing: Ken Alltucker and Karen Weintraub, USA TODAY

Eric Lagatta covers breaking and trending news for USA TODAY. Reach him at

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: CDC bird flu dashboard tracks virus' spread: What else the data shows