WOAH cautions against restricting movement of healthy cattle, dairy products

World Organization for Animal Health makes recommendations related to HPAI.

Sarah Muirhead, Editor, Feedstuffs

April 8, 2024

2 Min Read

The recent detections of High Pathogenicity Avian Influenza (HPAI) in cattle, as well as its ongoing spread in various regions of the world, are raising international concerns.

Among those that is closely monitoring the situation to assess the risks to animals and humans is the World Organization for Animal Health (WOAH), which on April 5 reminded its 183 members that, based on the information currently available, restrictions on the movement of healthy cattle and their products are not recommended.

While HPAI primarily affects poultry and wild birds, avian influenza can occasionally be transmitted to mammals, including humans. In the last two years, an increasing number of H5N1 avian influenza cases have been reported in terrestrial and aquatic mammalians animals.

Clinical signs of recent detections of HPAI in U.S. dairy cattle have included decreased lactation, reduced appetite, lethargy, fever and dehydration. According to WOAH and others, the concerns is that such infections of cattle could indicate an increased risk of H5N1 viruses becoming better adapted to mammals, and potentially spilling over to humans and other livestock.  

Initial investigations so far have revealed no specific adaptation to either humans or mammals. Regardless, several studies are being carried out to further explore the virulence and transmissibility of these viruses, including among cattle, and to assess the risk of transmission to animals and humans, which is currently considered very low, stated WOAH.

In terms of guidance for its members, WOAH is asking for all to:  

  • Maintain enhanced avian influenza surveillance in domestic and wild birds.  

  • Monitor and investigate the cases in non-avian species, including cattle and other livestock populations showing clinical signs compatible with avian influenza.  

  • Report cases of HPAI in all species, including unusual hosts, to WOAH through its World Animal Health Information System (WAHIS). Genetic sequences of avian influenza viruses should be shared in publicly available databases. 

  • Prevent the introduction and spread of the disease by implementing strict biosecurity measures in livestock holdings and employing good production practices when handling animal products such as raw milk and meat from suspected or confirmed cases.  

  • Protect humans in close contact with or handling sick cattle or other sick livestock and their products. Exposed humans should always take precautionary measures, including wearing personal protective equipment and implementing standard food safety measures when handling animal products from exposed livestock.  

  • Avoid implementing unjustified trade restrictions. Import risk management measures should be scientifically justified and in line with the WOAH International Standards.

WOAH noted that it is fully committed to supporting its members to mitigate risks against the impact of avian influenza. “We will continue to engage with our networks of experts as well as public and private partners, notably through the One Health Quadripartite and the Global Framework for Transboundary Animal Diseases (GF-TADs) to provide technical updates as more information becomes available,” said WOAH.

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