Contact with cows blamed for new human case of bird flu in Michigan

A Michigan dairy employee is the second known person to contract bird flu while working with infected livestock 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. This is similar to the first infection that was identified in a Texas dairy worker in early April.

The CDC said the infections could have occurred when workers’ eyes were splashed with contaminated liquid or when they touched their eyes with a contaminated hand.

“Given the high levels of…virus in raw milk from infected cows and the extent of 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 from person to person.

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

The infection is believed to have been transmitted by Texas cows.

As of Wednesday, USDA data showed 15 Michigan farms 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 have been sick dairy cows transported from Texas before they showed symptoms. The virus has spread from cows to other cows and to poultry.

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

Entire herds are slaughtered to prevent the spread of the virus. It is highly contagious and fatal to domestic birds, but cows usually recover in 10 to 14 days.

Michigan agricultural officials declare emergency, impose biosecurity rules

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” earlier this month and are requiring dairy farms to implement enhanced biosecurity precautions and document vehicles and people entering and leaving 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 testing has detected fragments of the virus in the country’s commercial milk supply. Despite that, the Food and Drug Administration says it’s safe to drink milk, which is pasteurized to kill pathogens.

From 2023: Bill Allowing Sales of Raw Milk Finally Passes Iowa Legislature

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

Find this story at Iowa Capital Clearance, which is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Iowa Capital Dispatch maintains editorial independence. Contact editor Kathie Obradovich if you have questions: [email protected].

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