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Washington State University Awarded $1.5M for Zoonotic Respiratory Disease Tracking

NEW YORK – Washington State University announced Monday that its Washington Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory (WADDL) has been awarded $1.5 million to track zoonotic respiratory pathogens in the Pacific Northwest, including the highly pathogenic avian influenza virus H5N1.

The funding from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Washington Department of Health will allow WADDL to expand its ongoing surveillance of avian flu and other zoonotic diseases like SARS-CoV-2 as part of the CDC's Pathogen Genomics Centers of Excellence network.

The WADDL lab aims to use next-generation sequencing to track pathogen transmission among small- and medium-sized ruminant hosts, including cows, goats, and sheep, particularly at events where people interact with animals, such as county fairs, according to a statement from WSU.

Although WADDL and its partners have been tracking H5N1 in domestic and wild birds, its jump into dairy cattle was unexpected, WSU noted. WADDL quickly confirmed the first H5N1 cases in dairy cattle farms in Idaho and, by sequencing the viral genomes, demonstrated that recently transported dairy cattle from Texas had brought the virus with them, WSU said.

At the end of last month, H5N1 had been detected in dairy herds in nine states. The virus has caused billions of dollars in losses for the US poultry industry and has had a huge impact on wildlife, WSU said.

"The number of wild birds dying, including raptors, is staggering," said WADDL Executive Director Kevin Snekvik. “It's not just birds, now it's raccoons and skunks and seals. Luckily, it is not highly pathogenic for humans. We hope a mutation doesn't occur that leads to something like that, but we need to be closely monitoring the situation."