CDC confirms second bird flu infection of dairy worker

Dairy cattle infected by highly pathogenic avian influenza have large amounts of the virus in their milk. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images) (This image cannot be republished unless you have a Getty subscription.)

A Michigan dairy employee is the second known person to contract bird flu while working with infected cattle in the United States, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The person had symptoms of an eye infection and has recovered. That is similar to the first infection that was identified in a Texas dairy worker in early April.

The CDC said the infections might have happened when the workers’ eyes were splashed with contaminated fluid or if they touched their eyes with a contaminated hand.

“Given the high levels of … virus in raw milk from infected cows, and the extent of the spread of this virus in dairy cows, similar additional human cases could be identified,” the CDC said.

The agency maintains that highly pathogenic avian influenza poses a low risk to public health because it has not spread person to person.

The virus was first identified in Texas cattle in March and has since been found at a total of at least 52 dairy farms in nine states, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

As of Wednesday, USDA data showed that 15 Michigan farms have had infections — the most of any state. The Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development listed four more for a total of 19.

The initial source of infection in Michigan is believed to be sick dairy cows that were transported from Texas before they showed symptoms. The virus has transmitted from cows to other cows and to poultry.

The virus has infected eight commercial or backyard poultry flocks in Michigan since early April. Three of them were large egg-producing operations with a total of about 6.5 million birds.

Entire flocks are culled to prevent the virus’ spread. It is highly contagious and deadly for domestic birds, but cows typically recover in 10 to 14 days.

The Michigan dairy and poultry operations with infections are located in 10 counties in the state’s lower peninsula. State agricultural officials declared an “extraordinary emergency” early this month and are requiring dairy farms to implement better biosecurity precautions and to document the vehicles and people who come and go from the farms.

The USDA recently announced it will reimburse dairy farms for costs associated with those precautions, including protective equipment for workers and heat treatments to inactivate the virus in contaminated milk.

Milk from sick cows is required to be discarded, but federal tests have detected fragments of the virus in the country’s commercial milk supply. Despite that, the Food and Drug Administration said it is safe to drink the milk, which is pasteurized to kill pathogens.

The states with bird flu infections among cattle include Colorado, Idaho, Kansas, Michigan, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, South Dakota and Texas.


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