H5N1 bird flu found in alpacas for first time

Bird flu has been found in alpacas for the first time, marking the latest spread of the current H5N1 bird flu virus, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced Tuesday.

The infected alpacas were at a farm in Idaho, where the avian influenza virus was detected in poultry that has since been culled, the USDA’s National Veterinary Services Laboratories said in a statement.

The alpacas tested positive for the virus May 16, and the USDA noted its detection was not unexpected given the “co-mingling of multiple livestock species.”

The H5N1 bird flu is widespread in wild birds around the world, prompting outbreaks in poultry and U.S. dairy cows across the nation this spring. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said the current public health risk is still “low,” though it is monitoring the situation.

Since 2022, there have three human cases related to bird and dairy exposure in the U.S. The first was in Colorado in 2022, followed by one in Texas last month and one in Michigan last week.

In the most recent case in Michigan, the bird flu was detected in a farmworker who had mild symptoms and has since recovered, according to health officials.

Bird flu was first detected in dairy cows in March, though data for viral samples show it was circulating in cattle at least four months prior and prompted a drop in milk production.

The CDC has confirmed outbreaks in 67 herds in nine states, and as of Tuesday, the virus has been detected in more than 9,300 wild birds across 50 states. More than 92 million poultry in 48 states have also been impacted, the CDC noted.

Humans are urged to avoid direct contact with wild birds and observe them only from a distance and to not eat or drink raw milk or products made with raw milk, per the CDC.

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