US scientists to infect cattle with influenza in high-security labs

The aim is to better understand the threat the virus poses
calendar icon 3 July 2024
clock icon 1 minute read

The avian influenza virus that has been infecting dairy cows and spreading alarm in the United States was expected to reach Germany this week. But that’s actually good news, according to a press release from Nebraska Medicine.

A shipment of samples of the H5N1 virus from Cornell University virologist Diego Diel is destined for the Federal Research Institute for Animal Health in Riems, which has one of the rare high-security labs worldwide that are equipped to handle such dangerous pathogens in cattle and other large animals. There, veterinarian Martin Beer will use the samples to infect dairy cows, in search of a fuller picture of the threat the virus poses, to both cattle and people, than researchers have been able to glean from spotty data collected in the field.

Six weeks into the outbreak that has spread to farms in nine US states, the flow of data from those locations remains limited as public health officials sort out authorities and some farms resist oversight. 

“It’s incredibly difficult to get the right sample sets off the infected farms,” said Richard Webby, an avian influenza researcher at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. “It’s clearly a barrier to understanding what’s going on. … That’s why these experimental infections of cows are really going to be super informative.”

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