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Rare human case of highly contagious H5N1 bird flu confirmed in Texas

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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced Monday that a person in Texas has tested positive for highly pathogenic avian influenza, otherwise known as H5N1 bird flu.

“This person had exposure to dairy cattle in Texas presumed to be infected with HPAI A(H5N1) viruses. The patient reported eye redness (consistent with conjunctivitis), as their only symptom, and is recovering,” the CDC said in a statement. “The patient was told to isolate and is being treated with an antiviral drug for flu.”

The CDC said this is the second case of a human testing positive for H5N1 in the United States, after a previous case was observed in Colorado in 2022.

“This infection does not change the H5N1 bird flu human health risk assessment for the U.S. general public, which CDC considers to be low,” it added. “However, people with close or prolonged, unprotected exposures to infected birds or other animals (including livestock), or to environments contaminated by infected birds or other animals, are at greater risk of infection.”

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Dairy cattle feed at a farm in March 2017 near Vado, New Mexico. The U.S. Department of Agriculture said Monday that milk from dairy cows in Texas and Kansas has tested positive for bird flu.

Last week, dairy cows in Texas and Kansas were reported to be infected with bird flu – and federal agriculture officials later confirmed infections in a Michigan dairy herd that had recently received cows from Texas.

This bird flu was first identified as a threat to people during a 1997 outbreak in Hong Kong, according to the Associated Press. More than 460 people have died in the past two decades from bird flu infections, the World Health Organization says.

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Eggs cleaned at farm

Eggs are cleaned and disinfected at the Sunrise Farms processing plant in Petaluma, California, on Jan. 11, 2024, which had seen an outbreak of avian flu.  (AP/Terry Chea)

Texas officials did not identify the newly infected person, nor release any details about what brought them in contact with the cows.

The CDC said it is “working with state health departments to continue to monitor workers who may have been in contact with infected or potentially infected birds/animals and test those people who develop symptoms.” 

Bird flu sample

A researcher wears a protective suit while collecting samples of wildlife, where the H5N1 bird flu virus was detected, at Chilean Antarctic territory in Antarctica, in this undated handout photo obtained by Reuters on March 13. (Reuters/Instituto Antartico Chileno)

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“Human illnesses with H5N1 bird flu have ranged from mild (e.g., eye infection, upper respiratory symptoms) to severe illness (e.g., pneumonia) that have resulted in death in other countries,” the CDC also said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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