Business & Economy

Goats contract bird flu on Minnesota farm

Goats graze on a hillside
A herd of Boer and Spanish goats graze in St. Paul on Oct. 20, 2022.
Ben Hovland | MPR News

Updated: 3:05 p.m.

Young goats on a Stevens County farm recently tested positive for the highly pathogenic avian influenza virus, according to the Minnesota Board of Animal Health.

The agency said the detection is the first known U.S. avian influenza infection in domestic ruminants, which include cattle, sheep and goats. But a state official said the finding is not cause for alarm.

“I think this probably reflects more a case of an immune-compromised individual. Specifically, these were young goats approximately a week of age, their immune systems weren’t very strong yet and they were exposed to a pretty heavy viral burden,” said State Veterinarian Brian Hoefs.

Earlier this month the owner notified the Board of Animal Health about unusual deaths of young goats. A backyard poultry flock on the same farm was depopulated in February after testing positive for avian influenza. The goats and poultry shared space and a water source.

Hoefs said 10 carcasses were tested and five were positive for the highly pathogenic avian flu virus.

“This finding is significant because, while the spring migration is definitely a higher risk transmission period for poultry, it highlights the possibility of the virus infecting other animals on farms with multiple species,” said Hoefs.

Hoefs said tests showed the virus had not changed to become adapted to mammals, so there is little risk it spread to other animals.

Samples from the adult goats were negative for HPAI and no additional sick goat kids have been reported on the farm since March 11, according to the BAH.

“Our colleagues at the national level are telling us that this is likely a limited incident,” said Hoefs. “But the message is biosecurity, biosecurity, biosecurity. We want to make sure that we are preventing any similar exposures.”

Hoefs urged backyard poultry flock owners to keep poultry from contact with wild birds or livestock.

Avian influenza has been previously diagnosed in other mammals including skunks, dogs and cats. Animals with weakened or immature immune systems are at higher risk of contracting disease, officials said.

More than six million domestic turkeys and chickens in Minnesota have died as a result of avian influenza since the outbreak began in early 2022.

The USDA has tracked more than 200 detections of HPAI in mammals across the country.

Officials said the risk to the public is extremely low, and any risk of infection is limited to people in direct contact with infected animals. Officials said during the current outbreak, there have been no cases of people in the United States sickened after contact with mammals infected with the virus.