Patient in Texas Contracts Bird Flu After Close Contact With Dairy Cattle

April 1, 2024

A person in Texas in contact with dairy cows infected with a strain of highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) now also has become ill with the virus.

The Texas Health & Human Services Commission reported Monday the patient was showing signs of conjunctivitis, more commonly known as pink eye. The patient's case is "believed to be associated with the recent detections of avian influenza A(H5N1) in dairy cows," according to the Texas health department.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a news release stating the patient reported eye redness as the only symptom and is recovering. The patient was told to isolate and is being treated with an antiviral drug for flu.

"This infection does not change the H5N1 bird flu health risk assessment for the U.S. general public, which CDC considers to be low," according to CDC.

However, people are at a greater risk for infection if they have prolonged, unprotected exposure to infected birds or other animals, including livestock, or areas contaminated by infected birds or animals, the CDC stated.

The CDC noted a case of influenza A(H5N1) in a person in 2022 in Colorado.

The infection of a person comes following a week in which the CDC, USDA and other state and federal agencies have reported the infection and spread of H5N1 in dairy cattle across five states.

On March 25, Officials confirmed two dairy farmers in the Texas Panhandle and one dairy farm in Kansas had cattle that had become sick and tested positive for H5N1. Officials stated the strain of HPAI appeared to have come from wild birds and had hit primarily older dairy cows causing "decreased lactation, low appetite and other symptoms."

On March 29, the outbreak of dairy cattle had spread to five states with confirmed cases of avian influenza in Michigan with more "presumptive positive tests" in Idaho and New Mexico, according to federal officials.

State officials in Michigan and Idaho said the affected dairies in their states had received the dairy cows from farms in Texas.

As these cases have cropped up, 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. 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.

FDA has a longstanding position that unpasteurized, raw milk can harbor dangerous microorganisms that can pose serious health risks to consumers and reminds consumers of the risks associated with raw milk consumption considering the HPAI detections.

The CDC recommends people should avoid unprotected exposure to sick or dead animals, including wild birds, poultry, other domesticated birds and other wild or domesticated animals (including cattle), as well as animal carcasses, raw milk, litter or materials contaminated by birds or other animals with confirmed or suspected HPAI A(H5N1) virus infection.

People should not prepare or eat uncooked or undercooked food or related uncooked food products, such as unpasteurized (raw) milk, or products made from raw milk such as cheeses from animals with confirmed or suspected HPAI A(H5N1) virus infection (avian influenza or bird flu). Specific recommendations for farmers; poultry, backyard flock, and livestock owners; and worker protection are also available.

Officials have said dairies should restrict access to essential personnel only when disinfecting vehicles entering or leaving a farm, along with isolating affected cattle and destroying all contaminated milk. It's important to clean and disinfect all livestock watering devices and isolate any water that could have been contaminated by waterfowl.

Farmers are asked to notify their veterinarians if they suspect cattle in their herds are displaying symptoms.

Source: DTN