Goat tests positive for avian influenza — a first in the United States

Nigerian goats munch on donated Christmas trees at a farm. (Photo by Matt Stone/MediaNews Group/Boston Herald via Getty Images) (Getty Images)

A goat kid in Stevens County, Minnesota, has tested positive for highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI), marking the first case in the United States of bird flu in a domestic ruminant. 

The Minnesota Board of Animal Health announced Wednesday the juvenile goat residing on a farm with HPAI-positive poultry also tested positive for the same virus. This is the first U.S. detection in cattle, sheep, goat or their relatives. 

"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," State Veterinarian Dr. Brian Hoefs said. "Thankfully, research to-date has shown mammals appear to be dead-end hosts, which means they’re unlikely to spread HPAI further."

The Board of Animal Health says all the poultry on the farm were already quarantined after HPAI was detected in February. Following the confirmation of HPAI in the goat, the Board of Animal Health quarantined all other animals at the farm. 

The Board of Animal Health is working with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to investigate the virus' transmission. 

Unusual goat deaths

The owner of the goat notified the Board of Animal Health of newly kidded goats on the farm, where a backyard poultry flock had been depopulated due to bird flu. The goats and poultry had access to the same space and shared a water source. 

The body of one goat was taken to the University of Minnesota Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory, where it tested positive for influenza A, and the National Veterinary Services Laboratories later confirmed it was H5N1 HPAI, which is the same virus circulating in the national outbreak that began in 2022, a press release says. 

Samples from adult goats were negative for HPAI and they all appear healthy, the Board of Animal Health says. No other sick goat kids have been reported since March 11. 

HPAI in other mammals

The bird flu has previously been found in other mammal species, including skunks, dogs and cats, but this is the first time it's been found in a domestic ruminant, the release says. Animals with weakened or immature immune systems, like goat kids, are at a higher risk of contracting the disease. 

"There has been limited experimental data on HPAI infection in ruminants, and there are no prior reports of natural HPAI infection in goats. The USDA has tracked more than 200 detections of HPAI in mammals across the country since the start of the 2022 HPAI outbreak," the press release states. 

Bird flu and humans

Health officials note the risk to the public is "extremely low" and any risk of infection is limited to those who have direct contact with infected animals. No humans in the U.S. have gotten sick after having contact with mammals infected with bird flu, the Board of Animal Health says. 

The Minnesota Department of Health has recommendations for personal protective equipment and is monitoring the health of those who have had direct contact with the infected goats. 

Anyone who develops respiratory or gastrointestinal symptoms after exposure to the goats may be voluntarily tested for avian influenza and other respiratory pathogens, the release said.