CDC Issues Broad Warning After Latest Human Bird Flu Case

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April 8, 2024 – Following the confirmed case of avian influenza in a Texas dairy farmer last week, the CDC has issued a broad alert for people to take precautions when working around birds or other animals that could be infected with the potentially dangerous virus. 

The CDC recommended the use of personal protective equipment like masks and eye protection by anyone who may be exposed to sick or dead animals with suspected or confirmed infection with the virus known as A(H5N1). To date, the virus has been confirmed in wild animals including foxes, bears, seals, and sea lions, as well as in domesticated animals, including pets such as cats and dogs, farmed mink and foxes, and livestock such as goats and cows.

In its new advisory to medical and public health professionals, the CDC explained that the risk of a human contracting bird flu is rare, but “having unprotected exposure to any infected animal or to an environment in which infected birds or other animals are or have been present can pose a risk of infection.”

Since 1997, there have been cases of bird flu confirmed in humans in 23 countries, and those cases result in death more than half the time, the CDC alert stated. The virus has been confirmed in wild birds in all 50 states since 2022, and 48 states have had confirmed outbreaks in commercial or backyard poultry flocks in the past 2 years. The dairy farmer in Texas is the second human case in the U.S. In 2022, a human case occurred in Colorado and was linked to contact with poultry.

“Human infections with avian influenza A viruses can happen when enough virus gets into a person’s eyes, nose, or mouth or is inhaled,” the CDC alert explained.

The dairy farmer was not hospitalized, reported eye symptoms known as conjunctivitis, and was treated with antiviral medication, according to a CDC news release. Genetic testing among cows and the farmer linked the infection. The person in Colorado confirmed to have bird flu reported mild fatigue for a few days and recovered.

In addition to being cautious around dead or potentially sick birds or animals, the CDC urged people not to eat “uncooked or undercooked food or related uncooked food products, such as unpasteurized (raw) milk, or raw cheeses, from animals with suspected or confirmed” bird flu. It is safe to consume commercially produced milk products, the CDC said, because the milk is pasteurized before entering the market and that process kills bacteria and viruses. Poultry products that have been properly handled and cooked (to an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit) are also safe because that temperature ensures bacteria and viruses have been killed, the CDC also advised.

The CDC continues to classify the overall risk to humans of contracting bird flu as low.