Bird flu sickens 1 in Texas after spreading to dairy cattle

Health officials on Monday confirmed that a person in Texas has tested positive for avian flu after the viral infection spread to dairy cattle last month.

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The person’s only symptom was eye inflammation, the Texas Department of State Health Services said. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed their diagnosis over the weekend. They are being treated with the antiviral drug oseltamivir, officials said.

Authorities noted Monday that the general risk to the public remains low, as person-to-person transmission of the virus is rare. Health officials in Texas noted that “people with close contact with affected animals suspected of having avian influenza A(H5N1) have a higher risk of infection.”

The person who tested positive over the weekend had direct exposure to dairy cattle that is presumed to have been infected with the virus, officials said.

The illness marks the second human case of H5N1 flu in the United States and the first linked to dairy cattle. Last week, authorities announced that cattle at two dairies in Texas and two in Kansas tested positive for avian influenza. Officials have also found the virus in Michigan, and presumptive positive tests indicated it may have spread to herds in Idaho and New Mexico, The Washington Post reported.

Officials are working to understand how the virus is spreading. They added that the infections won’t endanger the commercial milk supply as dairies must destroy or divert milk from sick cows, and pasteurization has been shown to kill avian flu viruses.

Authorities urged healthcare providers to be aware of possible avian flu infections in people who have symptoms of the flu and a relevant exposure history. According to the Texas Department of State Health Services, signs of the avian flu can include:

  • Fever (temperature of 100°F or greater) or feeling feverish or chills
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Headaches
  • Fatigue
  • Eye redness (conjunctivitis)
  • Difficulty breathing/shortness of breath
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Seizures

Conjunctivitis or pink eye has also been reported in some infections, authorities noted.

In 2022, officials said a poultry worker in Colorado who had direct exposure to birds believed to have been infected with the avian flu tested positive for the virus. They reported fatigue for a few days before they recovered, according to the CDC.

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