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Bird Flu Detected in Texas Human

Just one day after reports of highly pathogenic avian influenza spreading to cattle in more states — including Michigan and Idaho — Politico’s Adam Cancryn and David Lim reported that “a Texas dairy worker has tested positive for the avian flu, marking the first identified human case of an illness in the U.S. that has sickened cattle across several states over the past few weeks.”

“The infection, only the second human case of H5N1 ever recorded in the country, is worrying public health experts who for decades have cautioned that avian flu could pose a serious threat,” Cancryn and Lim reported.

“The patient, who experienced eye inflammation as their only symptom, was tested for flu late last week, with confirmatory testing performed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention over the weekend,” according to reporting from the Washington Post’s Lena H. Sun and Rachel Roubein. “The patient is being treated with the antiviral drug oseltamivir. The case does not change the risk for the general public, which remains low.”

Why Public Health Experts are Concerned

Sun and Roubein reported that “the case has alarmed disease trackers monitoring for the worst-case scenario: human-to-human transmission of the pathogen, which has happened infrequently worldwide and typically among family members engaged in work with animals. And it raises questions about whether this pathogen is now more easily transmitted among mammals.”

Cancryn and Lim reported that “the new human case follows recent cow infections in Texas, Idaho, Michigan, Ohio and New Mexico that have raised alarm among public health experts who worry the virus’ spread to mammals could make it easier for the virus to infect humans.”

“‘Every single time is a little bit of Russian roulette,’ said veteran public health expert Ashish Jha, who led the Biden administration’s Covid-19 response,” according to Cancryn and Lim. “‘You play that game long enough and one of these times it will become fit to spread among humans.'”

“Any time the virus changes — its recent emergence in cattle and the likelihood of cow-to-cow transmission represents a change — ‘that makes me sit up and take notice,’ said Caitlin Rivers, an epidemiologist at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security,” according to Sun and Roubein. “There are several ways the virus could evolve, disease experts have said: It could remain primarily a threat to animal health and then recede, as it has in the past. It may continue to circulate among animals, but not routinely infect humans. Or, in the worst case, it evolves to spread easily between people and becomes the next pandemic, Rivers said.”

“Rick Bright (who led the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority) cautioned that highly pathogenic avian influenza ‘does not always translate to the same level of disease’ in people and mammals as birds, though he and other experts warn the potential impact is far from certain,” Cancryn and Lim reported. “The increasing prevalence of avian influenza in cows means that human surveillance in farmworkers and dairy workers should be bolstered, according to Association of Public Health Laboratories CEO Scott Becker.”

Milk Supply Remains Unaffected, Officials Say

Despite the cases in cattle and now in humans, Progressive Farmer’s Chris Clayton reported that “state and federal officials have stressed there is no concern about the safety of the commercial milk supply. Milk from sick cows is not permitted to be shipped for consumption. Further, pasteurization inactivated bacteria and viruses.”

“Dairies are required to only send milk from healthy animals into processing for human consumption,” Clayton wrote. “Milk from affected animals is being diverted or destroyed so it does not enter the human food supply. Pasteurization has also continually proven to inactivate bacteria and viruses, like influenza, in milk. It is required for any milk entering interstate commerce for human consumption.”

Ryan Hanrahan is the farm policy news editor and social media director for the farmdoc project. He has previously worked in local news, primarily as an agriculture journalist in the American West. He is a graduate of the University of Missouri (B.S. Science & Agricultural Journalism).

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