CDC warns doctors to monitor dairy workers for bird flu

The CDC has advised physicians to be vigilant for cases of avian flu among dairy workers, fearing that the disease could spread from farm animals to humans.

The agency advised in a health alert published on Friday that healthcare workers who work on farms or with dairy cows and observe influenza-like symptoms in patients should consider the possibility that the patient is infected with H5N1.

The action follows earlier this week when an agricultural worker in Texas contracted the virus, which officials suspect originated from a cow.

There are apprehensions that the outbreaks in cattle on dozens of ranches across multiple states may spread to humans.

Professionals have previously cautioned that certain cases may go unnoticed due to the possibility of disregarding mild symptoms, such as the ocular inflammation documented in the Texas case.

However, according to officials, the risk posed by the virus remains minimal due to its insufficient mutational progress, which would enable it to be transmitted between individuals readily.CDC warns doctors to monitor dairy workers for bird flu

Earlier this week, virologist Dr. Angela Rasmussen of the University of Saskatchewan in Canada stated online, “The fact that this human case was limited to mild conjunctivitis [eye inflammation] is especially concerning.”

“That is beneficial for the individual who contracted H5N1.” However, it does not effectively prevent overflow, and mild cases might go unnoticed and unisolated.

The CDC advised in the alert that infections should be rated as mild, moderate, or severe.

Patients with severe illnesses may present with symptoms such as respiratory distress, cognitive impairment, or fever, whereas those with mild illnesses may manifest symptoms like coughing, hoarse throat, eye redness, or fever.

The agency advised that if physicians suspect a patient is infected with H5N1, the patient should be promptly isolated and treated by medical personnel wearing full PPE.

Patients should also be initiated on oseltamivir, commonly marketed as Tamiflu, prior to the confirmation of the infection through laboratory tests.

In order to reduce their risk of infection, the public was advised by the health alert to avoid ill or deceased animals, surfaces contaminated with animal feces, litter, raw milk, and sick or deceased animals.

According to testing, the virus responsible for the infection has mutated; however, scientists have previously documented this alteration in mammalian infections, so it has not caused concern.

The mode of infection remains uncertain; however, USDA officials hypothesize that the virus may be transmitted through contaminated milk produced by infected cows. Additionally, the employee was employed on a farm with compromised dairy cows.

The patient is reportedly recuperating well while isolating at home and receiving oseltamivir. There is no evidence that they have spread the disease to others.

Since its onset on March 27, the individual has remained hospitalized without being admitted due to the infection.

The CDC stated in the HAN that “no additional cases of human [H5N1] associated with the current infections in poultry and dairy cattle in the United States have been identified, and there has been no human-to-human transmission [of the virus].”

They are the second individual in the United States to contract avian flu; in 2022, a prisoner employed at a poultry farm in Colorado also contracted the virus.

Ohio, Texas, Kansas, New Mexico, Idaho, and herds tested positive for avian influenza.

The virus has been detected in cattle milk via swabs, but not in their blood or respiratory tract.

Yesterday, USDA officials speculated during a briefing that the virus might be transmitted between cows via workers’ hands or through contamination of milking machinery that is not necessarily wholly sanitized between uses.

Mark Lyons stated, “We have seen no real evidence that the cows are actively shedding the virus and exposing it to other animals,” as reported by Science.

Additionally, it has been reported that three felines perished from avian flu; the cats are believed to have contracted the virus by consuming spilled milk.

Officials assert that the risk of H5N1 contamination in the milk supply is minimal due to the destruction of milk from ill cattle.

Additionally, almost all milk available in the United States is pasteurized before consumption, rendering it free of viruses or pathogens.

The state of Texas has the highest number of reported bird flu epidemics on farms, with eight. Furthermore, cattle shipments from Texas have been linked to outbreaks in other states.

Officials have speculated that the infections could be traced back to a single Texas farm where a single spillover occurred, or the virus may have entered cattle.

However, infections in mammals are a source of concern for experts due to the increased likelihood of the virus acquiring mutations and mutating, which would improve its ability to infect other species.

Infectious disease specialists are already alarmed by the virus due to its simplicity in crossing species boundaries; over forty distinct types have been infected.

Foxes, raccoons, skunks, polar bears, and seals are among the mammals infected; the virus is believed to have killed 17,000 Elephant Seal puppies at an Argentine colony.

The CDC stated earlier this week that the infection does not alter the minimal risk assessment for H5N1 bird flu among the general public in the United States. The Texas patient reported only eye inflammation, as stated by the state health department.

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