Science and Tech


Person in Texas diagnosed with bird flu after contact with cows

Health officials say the person had been in contact with cows presumed to be infected, and the risk to the public remains low.
Posted at 2:30 PM, Apr 01, 2024

A person in Texas has been diagnosed with the H5N1, or bird flu after direct contact with dairy cows, health officials said Monday. It’s the first case in the U.S. of highly pathogenic avian influenza linked to cattle exposure. There’s been one previous case, in 2022, that spread from a bird to a human. Bird flu in humans is extremely rare.

“What we usually don’t see is the transmission between animal to animal, and that’s what’s concerning here,” said Dr. Jayne Morgan, executive director of health and community education at Piedmont.

The patient is being treated with an antiviral drug and their only reported symptom was eye redness, Texas health officials said. 

The Department of Agriculture is reporting infections in at least a dozen herds in five states, as of a 4 p.m. update on Tuesday. In a press release, USDA has confirmed the detection of highly pathogenic avian influenza, aka bird flu, in dairy herds in Texas (7) Kansas (2), Michigan (1), New Mexico (1) and Idaho (1).

“This virus is transmitted from infected animals, such as birds and dairy cows, to humans by contact with either the animals, or the animal products,” said Dr. Linda Yancey, an infectious disease specialist at Memorial Hermann Health System.

The risk to the public remains low. Yancey says anyone in the U.S. should call animal control if you see a sick or dead bird instead of touching it, and to avoid drinking unpasteurized milk.

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. The virus has been found in hundreds of mammal species globally in recent years.

This bird flu was first identified as a threat to people during a 1997 outbreak in Hong Kong. More than 460 people have died in the past two decades from bird flu infections, according to the World Health Organization. The vast majority of infected people got it directly from birds, but scientists have been on guard for any sign of spread among people.

In a statement, the USDA says ” the nation’s commercial milk supply remains safe” because of pasteurization and “milk from impacted animals is being diverted from the commercial milk tank or destroyed” to keep it from the country’s supply.

In 2022, a prison inmate in a work program picked up the virus while killing infected birds at a poultry farm in Montrose County, Colorado. His only symptom was fatigue, and he recovered.

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

Tests detect bird flu in dairy cows in Kansas and Texas
Dairy cattle on a farm in New Mexico

Tests detect bird flu in dairy cows in Kansas and Texas

Type A H5N1 is known to infect birds and has sometimes infected people. Now it has surfaced in dairy cows in Kansas, New Mexico and Texas.