Bird Flu Spreads to U.S. Dairy Cows, Infecting Four Workers



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Avian influenza, or bird flu, has alarmed public health officials due to its unprecedented spread among dairy cows in the United States this year. Four dairy workers in the country have also tested positive for the virus.

A particularly severe variant of the H5N1 strain has been circulating globally in animals since 2020, causing lethal outbreaks in commercial poultry and sporadic infections in various species, from alpacas to house cats. Until this year, cows had not been infected.

Different strains of bird flu have also been identified in humans in Australia and Mexico, while various H5 subtypes are present worldwide in both animals and humans, including in China and Cambodia. Most human cases have been linked to exposure to poultry, live poultry markets, or dairy cattle. Scientists are concerned the virus could mutate to spread more easily between people, potentially leading to a pandemic. However, the World Health Organization (WHO) states that the risk to humans is currently low.

Global Occurrences of Bird Flu in Humans This Year

The first known cases of infected dairy cattle were reported in Texas in March, and the virus has since spread to dairy herds in 12 states. The U.S. Agriculture Department confirmed that the virus found in cows is the same H5N1 strain affecting wild birds and commercial poultry. The four dairy workers who tested positive for the virus exhibited mild symptoms, such as conjunctivitis (pink eye). The H5N1 virus in the U.S. belongs to the clade, genotype B3.13, a genotype detected only in North America so far, according to the European Food Safety Agency.

The WHO reported that a Mexican resident died with the first known human cases of H5N2 avian influenza on June 5. However, the Mexican government stated that chronic illness, rather than bird flu, was the cause of death. The individual had no known exposure to animals.

On June 7, the WHO reported that a child with H5N1 bird flu in Australia had traveled to Kolkata, India. Genetic sequencing identified the virus as a subtype of H5N1 circulating in Southeast Asia, previously detected in human infections and poultry. Additionally, Australia is managing three outbreaks of different bird flu strains (H7N3, H7N8, and H7N9) on poultry farms, likely introduced by wild birds.

The WHO reported on June 11 a human infection with the H9N2 bird flu subtype in a four-year-old child from West Bengal. This was the second H9N2 human infection in India, following a case in 2019. While H9N2 typically causes mild illness, the WHO noted that further sporadic human cases could occur, as it is a prevalent avian influenza virus in poultry across various regions.

Vietnam reported the death of a 21-year-old student from H5N1 bird flu in March. The student had no underlying medical conditions but had been exposed to wild birds through hunting. No contact with sick or dead poultry was reported. Vietnam also recorded an H9N2 outbreak in a 37-year-old man.

Cambodia has reported five human cases of H5N1 as of June 20.

China detected human cases caused by H5N6, H9N2, and H10N3 strains this year, with two fatal H5N6 cases in Fujian province. Both cases involved exposure to backyard poultry. The H10N3 case was the third globally reported.

Germany reported a rare outbreak of highly pathogenic H7N5 bird flu on a farm near the Dutch border on July 4. It was the first recorded outbreak of H7N5 in the World Organisation for Animal Health’s public records.

By Naija247news
By Naija247news
Naija247news is an investigative news platform that tracks news on Nigerian Economy, Business, Politics, Financial and Africa and Global Economy.

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