Avian influenza was discovered in person who had contact with infected dairy cattle in Texas

A person in Texas being treated for bird flu, The second human case of an illness caused by a highly virulent virus that has sickened dairy cows in five states in recent weeks, federal and state officials said Monday.

The patient, who experienced eye inflammation as their only symptom, was tested for the flu late last week, with confirmatory testing conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention over the weekend. The patient is being treated with the antiviral drug oseltamivir. The case does not change the risk to the general public, which remains low. The person had direct exposure to dairy cattle believed to be infected with bird flu, Texas officials said Monday.

of the case has alarmed monitoring disease trackers for the worst-case scenario: human-to-human transmission of the pathogen, which has occurred rarely worldwide and usually between family members engaged in animal work. And that raises questions about whether this pathogen is now more easily transmitted between mammals.

But federal officials said the infection does not change the health risk assessment for bird flu in the general U.S. public, a risk the CDC considers low. However, people with close or prolonged exposure, unprotected to infected birds or other animals (including livestock), or in environments contaminated by infected birds or other animals, are at greater risk of infection.

In 2022, a person in Colorado tested positive for the same type of bird flu. The person had direct exposure to poultry and was involved in the disposal of poultry that had suspected H5N1 avian influenza. The person reported fatigue for several days as the only symptom and recovered, according to the CDC.

However, whenever the virus mutates – Its recent appearance in cattle and the possibility of cow-to-cow transmission represent a change — “that makes me sit up and take notice,” said Caitlin Rivers, an epidemiologist at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security.

There are several ways the virus could evolve, disease experts said: It could remain largely a threat to animal health and then recede, as it has in the past. It can continue to circulate among animals, but not routinely infect humans. Or, at worst, her it evolves to spread easily between people and become the next pandemic, Rivers said.

The virus was detected in dairy herds in Texas and Kansas last week and has since spread to other herds in at least five states, adding to evidence that the virus can spread from cow to cow. The strain has been confirmed in Michigan, and presumed positive tests have also been reported from Idaho and New Mexico, federal officials said Friday.

Epidemiologists have been concerned about the increasing number of mammals infected by highly pathogenic avian influenza – commonly known as HPAI – around the world. Bird flu has spread worldwide since 2020 and has been documented to infect dozens of other mammal species, but rarely spreads among them. Last month, HPAI was found in a baby goat in Minnesota, the first case in US cattle.

Scientists are concerned that the virus may have mutated in ways that may allow it to better infect humans. In a statement Friday, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said it has not identified changes in the virus that would make it more transmissible to humans.

“While cases among people in direct contact with infected animals are possible, this indicates that the actual risk to the public remains low,” the agency said in a statement.

Texas officials are providing guidance to affected dairies on how to minimize worker exposure and how people working with affected cattle can monitor for flu-like symptoms and get tested. Illnesses in people with H5N1 flu infections have ranged from mild, such as eye infection and upper respiratory symptoms, to severe, such as pneumonia and death.

Texas has issued a health alert asking health care providers around affected dairies to be alert for possible human cases and is offering testing and treatment recommendations.

This is a developing story and will be updated.

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