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Bird flu detected in person who had contact with dairy cattle in Texas

Dairy cattle feed near Vado, New Mexico, in March 2017 (AP/Rodrigo Abd)
Dairy cattle feed near Vado, New Mexico, in March 2017 (AP/Rodrigo Abd)

A dairy worker in Texas has tested positive for avian flu, representing only the second-ever human case in the US.

H5N1, commonly known as bird flu, has been spreading rapidly across cattle in the American South and Midwest over the past few weeks but has so far largely failed to make the jump to humans.

One other person tested positive in Colorado in April 2022 after direct contact with poultry.

Across the globe, a total of 887 humans have been infected with avian flu since 2003, according to the World Health Organisation, with 462 resulting in death.

However, the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) said on Monday that the person infected last week was suffering only mild symptoms, and was being treated with the antiviral drug oseltamivir.

Texas, Idaho, Michigan, Ohio, and New Mexico have all recorded bird flu infections in cows, raising fears that the virus's widespread replication will make it easier to spread to humans.

“Every single time is a little bit of Russian roulette,” Joe Biden's former Covid tsar Dr Ashish Jha told Politico. “You play that game long enough and one of these times it will become fit to spread among humans.”

However, federal agencies said in a joint press release on Friday that they had not yet detected any mutations in the virus that would make it more transmissible for humans, concluding that the overall risk to the public remains low.

They added that there was no danger of milk being infected with the disease because it is pasteurised before being sold to humans.

Scientists have long feared that bird flu could be the source of a future human pandemic, due to the very large pool of infected animals in which it can continuously mutate.

It first began to infect humans during an outbreak among chickens in Hong Kong in 1997 and has periodically gone epidemic since.

The current outbreak, which began in 2020, has been particularly severe, afflicting wild and captive bird populations on multiple continents as well as killing seven humans.