02 Apr 2024, 08:28

Person in Texas infected with bird flu through dairy cattle

WASHINGTON, April 2, 2024 (BSS/AFP) - A person in the US state of Texas is
recovering from bird flu after being exposed to dairy cattle, officials said
Monday amid growing concern over the current global strain of the virus as it
spreads to new species.

It is only the second case of a human testing positive for bird flu in the
country, and comes after the infection sickened herds that were apparently
exposed to wild birds in Texas, Kansas and other states over the past week.

"The patient reported eye redness (consistent with conjunctivitis), as their
only symptom, and is recovering," said the Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention (CDC). They were told to isolate and are being treated with the
antiviral drug used for the flu.

The current outbreak began in 2020 and has led to the deaths of tens of
millions of poultry, with wild birds also infected as well as land and marine

Cows and goats joined the list last week, a surprising development for
experts because they were not thought susceptible to this type of influenza.

The infected person was likely a farm worker, Louise Moncla, a pathobiologist
at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine, told AFP.

"If we find continued clusters of infections in cows, then it means we need
to start surveilling cows -- and that would be a big change to how we think
about these viruses," she added.

"But at this time, there's not an enormous need for concern by the public,"
she said.

The CDC said that the infection does not change its bird flu human health
risk assessment for the US, which it rates as low.

The first US bird flu case in a human occurred in a Colorado prison inmate in
2022 -- however, that was through infected poultry.

- Milk supply safe -

Experts are worried about the increasing number of mammals infected by the
current H5N1 strain of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) and whether
it is actually spreading between them.

"Initial testing has not found changes to the virus that would make it more
transmissible to humans," the US Department of Agriculture, the CDC, and the
Food and Drug Administration said in a joint statement last week.

The strain appears to have been introduced by wild birds but spread between
cows hasn't been ruled out, the statement added.

The Texas health department said the cattle infections do not present a
concern for the commercial milk supply, as dairies are required to destroy
milk from sick cows. Pasteurization also kills the virus.

The findings marked the first time ever that HPAI has been detected in dairy
cattle, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA).
Earlier in March, Minnesota reported bird flu cases among goats.

- Ongoing outbreak -

The affected cows were primarily older animals that showed decreased
lactation and low appetite, "with little to no associated mortality
reported," added the AVMA. Dead wild birds were generally found nearby.

A nine-year-old boy died from the virus in Cambodia in February, adding to
the three deaths there in 2023 -- though the bird flu spreading in Europe and
North America appears to cause milder infections, said Moncla.

Bird flu has killed tens of thousands of marine mammals since spreading in
South America, according to the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research.

British seabird populations are suffering "widespread and extensive declines"
according to a recent impact assessment.

The disease has hit European farms hard too, with French authorities raising
the risk level to "maximum" in December, and Czech officials reporting in
February they had culled 140,000 birds in 2024 alone.

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