Alpacas test positive for H5N1 bird flu for the first time

Highly pathogenic avian influenza, sometimes called bird flu, has been confirmed in alpacas for the first time, according to the US Department of Agriculture’s National Veterinary Services Laboratories.

The animals that tested positive were on a farm in Idaho where poultry had tested positive for the virus and were culled in May. The alpacas tested positive May 16, the USDA said in a news release.

The USDA noted that the finding of other infected animals on the same farm as the infected birds wasn’t necessarily a surprise.

The gene sequence of viruses isolated from the alpacas shows that it is closely related to the H5N1 viruses that are currently circulating in dairy cattle.

There are more than 264,000 alpacas registered in the US, according to the Alpaca Owners Association.

Scientists have closely watched the H5N1 virus for roughly two decades. For most of that time, it has primarily affected birds. In the past two years, however, the virus has been infecting a wider variety of wild and farmed mammals, raising concern that it could be moving closer to becoming a pathogen that can transmit easily between people.

Human cases have been reported sporadically around the globe over the years, including three in the US, but no person-to-person transmission has been reported in the ongoing US cattle outbreak.

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