CDC issues bird flu infection health alert

April 6, 2024

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a health alert Friday to inform healthcare centers and the public of a confirmed human infection of the bird flu.

A farm worker on a commercial dairy farm in Texas developed conjunctivitis, commonly known as pink eye, on March 27 and then tested positive for the “highly pathogenic avian influenza” (HPAI), the CDC said.

HPAI viruses have been reported in the Texas area’s dairy cattle and wild birds, but before this incident, there have been no previous reports on the spreading of HPAI from cows to humans.

The patient did not report any other symptoms and was not hospitalized. The person has received antiviral treatment and is recovering and the patient’s household members have not become sick, the CDC said.

“No additional cases of human infection with the HPAI A(H5N1) virus associated with the current infections in dairy cattle and birds in the United States, and no human-to-human transmission of HPAI A(H5N1) virus have been identified,” the CDC said.

The CDC said it tested the patient’s virus genome and sequences from cattle, wild birds and poultry. It found minor changes, they both “lack changes that would make them better adapted to infect mammals.”

USDA has confirmed infections of dairy cattle herds in five states — Texas, Kansas, Michigan, New Mexico — with results in Idaho “presumed” to be positive. The CDC said the spread has likely been due to the movement of cattle across state lines.

States like Nebraska have issued temporary restrictions on cattle imports because of the bird flu.

The patient in Texas is the second person in the U.S. to test positive for the disease. The first person to test positive was a patient in Colorado in April 2022 who had contact with infected poultry.

The CDC said the risk remains low, but recommended people with jobs or recreational activities that could expose them to infected birds, cattle or other animals are at higher risk and should take precautions.

The virus historically has shown to be deadly, killing more than 50 percent of its human victims from 2003 to 2016. The current outbreak has spread to affect 82 million birds in 48 states, the worst outbreak of bird flu in U.S. history.