Cows have the potential to transmit bird flu to humans

Cows Could Become Mixing Vessels for Bird Flu, Study Finds

In a groundbreaking new study conducted by scientists at the University of Copenhagen and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, it has been discovered that cow udders have the same receptors for flu viruses as humans and birds. This finding raises concerns that cows could potentially become “mixing vessels” that help the bird flu virus spread between people.

The researchers examined samples of brain, respiratory, and mammary gland tissue taken from a small number of cows and a calf. They found that the sacs of the cows’ udders were loaded with the kind of flu receptors associated with birds, as well as those found in people. These receptors are the type that bird flu viruses like H5N1 can attach to. Tissue from the brain and respiratory tract of the cows had far fewer of these receptors.

“These results provide a mechanistic rationale for the high levels of H5N1 virus reported in infected bovine milk and show cattle have the potential to act as a mixing vessel for novel influenza virus generation,” the researchers wrote in their study.

When an animal acts as a mixing vessel, different flu strains can swap genetic material to form new kinds of diseases. Previously, pigs were thought to be potential mixing vessels for viruses that could pose a pandemic threat. However, this new study suggests that cows could also become mixing vessels for a bird flu pandemic.

According to Sam Scarpino, PhD, director of artificial intelligence and life sciences at Northeastern University, cows harbor both human-flu and avian-flu receptors in their mammary glands. This means that dairy cattle may have similar potential as pigs to serve as intermediaries between avian and human flu viruses.

Since late March, bird infections have been found in 42 herds across nine states, according to the USDA. This highlights the importance of monitoring and understanding the potential risks associated with the spread of bird flu in livestock populations.

Overall, this study sheds light on a previously overlooked aspect of the potential spread of bird flu and emphasizes the need for continued research and monitoring in order to prevent a potential pandemic.

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