Bird Flu Affects Third Farm Worker; Risk to Public Still Low

2 min read

May 30, 2024 — A third dairy farm worker has been diagnosed with bird flu, the Michigan Department of Health & Human Services announced Thursday. The risk to the general public remains low, federal officials said at a news briefing today.

“This individual is a dairy farm worker in Michigan,” Nirav Shah, MD, JD, principal deputy director of the CDC, said at the briefing. Like the worker last week, this worker was exposed to dairy cows but works on a different Michigan farm than the second worker. The worker was not wearing personal protective equipment (PPE). In the current outbreak, a Texas dairy farm worker was the first to contract the virus in April. 
This case involves different symptoms from the previous two. 

“Unlike the prior two individuals with H5N1 (bird flu), who only had red or inflamed eyes, this individual had respiratory symptoms, including a cough, congestion, sore throat, and watery eyes,” Shah said. The worker was given Tamiflu, he said, and is recovering.

Despite the different symptoms the third worker had, “this does not change the CDC H5 risk assessment level for the general public, which remains low,” Shah said. That is because all three workers had direct exposure to infected cows. Shah emphasized that no human-to-human transmission has been found.

It does illustrate the reason dairy farm workers should protect themselves with PPE, he said. The CDC has made PPE available to states from the national stockpile, he said.

“The respiratory symptoms we are seeing in this individual are what we expected,” Shah said. It shows that the virus can present in many ways. None of the worker’s close contacts have reported symptoms, he said. As with the case reported last week in Michigan, he said, this case was not unexpected. 

The CDC is sequencing the virus from the third worker to compare it with other prior human cases, looking for changes that might increase the likelihood of transmission. More information is expected in the next few days, he said.

At the same briefing, Eric Deeble, DVM, acting senior advisor for HPAI (highly pathogenic avian influenza) at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, announced an additional $824 million in funding to protect livestock health. 

The USDA also announced a voluntary pilot program to test herds not known to be infected to add to knowledge about bird flu and how it spreads and also to allow farmers to ship cows with ongoing negative testing. “We want to encourage more testing in every way we can,” he said.

Deeble also announced final results from the USDA beef sample study. On May 28, testing was completed on all 109 muscle samples from cows: 108 had no viral particles found. Tissue samples showed viral particles in one cow during post-mortem testing; it was prevented from entering the food supply.