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  • Mike Taylor

Third human case of bird flu tied to dairy cow reported in US: 'Underscores the importance of recommended precautions'

A Department of Health and Human Services spokesperson has said the government is in the final stages of preparing for distribution 4.8 million doses of a vaccine "well-matched to the bird flu."



A third human case of bird flu was reported in the United States at the end of May amid an outbreak of the disease in dairy cows.


What's happening?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention noted the dairy farm worker was the third to test positive for the H5N1 virus, cases of which have skyrocketed in animals since 2020, according to Phys.org.


The first human case in the U.S. linked to dairy cows was reported in Texas in April, and the other two occurred in Michigan and were reported May 22 and May 30.


The third person has recovered, as have the other two. They were not wearing protective equipment, as has been recommended, ScienceAlert noted. They had acute respiratory symptoms, eye discomfort, and watery eye discharge. The other two people suffered conjunctivitis.


As of June 4, 81 dairy herds in nine states had been affected, the CDC reported.


Why are bird flu cases important?

This type of avian influenza first infected humans in Hong Kong. A 1997 outbreak killed six people. The virus spread to more than 860 people, and the death rate was greater than 50%.

 

A new strain of H5N1 in wild birds was detected in the United States and Canada in 2021 and passed on to domestic and commercial poultry by February 2022. Poultry infected with the virus have died by the millions, but cows "have not fallen severely sick," Phys.org reported.


Milk remains safe to drink, and eggs are safe to eat as well, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.


The issue is with potential human-to-human transmission, though that does not appear to have happened this time around.


"Health officials fear that if the virus were to eventually spread widely, it could mutate into a form that could pass between humans," Phys.org reported.


The CDC stated on May 30: "The risk to members of the general public who do not have exposure to infected animals remains low. However, this development underscores the importance of recommended precautions in people with exposure to infected or potentially infected animals." 


A 2008 study showed that rising global temperatures were changing the behaviors of migratory birds and could contribute to the spread of avian influenza via first-time contact among species. Other infectious diseases are on the rise, too, including multiple tick-borne illnesses in the U.S.


A warmer planet has also contributed to an increase in extreme weather, which can impact human behavior linked to some types of disease transmission. 


What's being done about the outbreak?

Cows can be treated for the virus effectively, Phys.org reported, citing the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and farms can access USDA financial aid to provide protective equipment for their workers. The agency said it had "not found changes to the virus that would make it more transmissible to humans and between people."


In mid-May, after the second human case was reported, a Department of Health and Human Services spokesperson said the government was in the final stages of preparing for the distribution of 4.8 million doses of a vaccine "well-matched to the bird flu," NBC News said.


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