Human Health Threatened as Bird Flu Spreads Through US Farms

Human Health Threatened as Bird Flu Spreads Through US Farms

United States: The concerns and worries related to the cases linked to bird flu infection have been consciously increased across the United States and currently, the threat has increased after the role of the infection has been highly seen in the humans.

According to the health authorities, they have sounded alarms after bird flu was detected in approximately 102 herds in the US and the experts and scientists have warned about the presence of virus even in the pasteurized milk. In addition to this, the experts have mentioned that the exact number might be higher.

Recent incidents in poultry operations have shown potential links to dairy farms, suggesting the virus may be transferred back from cows to birds. Since 2022, almost 97 million domesticated birds in the United States have been impacted by the highly pathogenic influenza, as reported by The Guardian.

Initially believed to originate from migratory birds and entering cows through contaminated feed, the outbreak has evolved. Genomic analyses now indicate human activity as a significant factor in spreading the virus among animals and farms, according to a report released by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA).

Focused on Michigan cases, the report highlights transmission occurring when personnel, cattle, vehicles, and equipment move across multiple farms.

At dairies experiencing outbreaks, approximately one-fifth of employees also work at other dairies, with 7 percent involved in poultry operations. This is in addition to veterinarians, nutritionists, and haulers who regularly visit various farms.

Among Michigan dairies with outbreaks, 60 percent use shared transportation for cattle, but only 12% sanitize these vehicles beforehand. Almost all affected dairies are part of the same milk cooperatives.

A second USDA report, also released recently, reveals that around one-third of dairy farm workers in the US with outbreaks also work on other livestock farms, predominantly dairy but occasionally swine and poultry, according to The Guardian.

Over half of the affected dairy farms share trucks and trailers for transporting cattle, and more than half of these vehicles are not cleaned before reuse.

“Biosecurity is paramount for prevention,” emphasized Kammy Johnson, a veterinary epidemiologist with the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, during a press briefing. This involves thorough decontamination of all items moving between farms – whether it’s transportation, clothing, or equipment – to minimize the risk of spreading the virus through infected animals or humans.

While the ongoing intensity of the outbreak remains unclear, officials anticipate discovering additional cases among cattle.

As the virus undergoes mutations, it poses an increasing threat to humans, according to a recent report by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The report predicts a rise in avian flu cases among humans as the outbreak continues.

“The higher the incidence among cattle, the greater the risk of transmission to humans,” warned Dr. Nirav Shah, principal deputy director of the CDC, during a press briefing.

Xavier Becerra, Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, expressed concern about the widespread nature of the virus within the milk supply, which suggests significant dissemination.

Testing for H5N1 among humans is restricted to the CDC and available only for symptomatic individuals with a history of close contact with infected animals or people. Thus far this year, only 45 tests have been conducted.

Despite positive flu A tests among workers, some are not sequenced for H5N1, potentially leading to missed cases. For instance, farm workers and a local maternity worker reported flu-like symptoms near Texas’s first confirmed human case this year, as per The Guardian.

Providers may now hesitate to test for influenza post-flu season, fearing insurance non-coverage.

While lactating dairy cows must undergo testing before crossing state lines under USDA regulations, there’s no federal mandate for widespread animal or human testing, leaving such efforts to state and local authorities.

In Wisconsin, despite no reported infections in cattle thus far, farmers are required to test cows before exhibiting them at fairs and shows.

In five states – South Dakota, Michigan, Colorado, Ohio, and Texas – cattle deaths occurred due to failure to recover or secondary infections after testing positive for H5N1. Although most infected cattle survive, these fatalities underscore the potential economic impact of an uncontrolled outbreak, as mentioned by The Guardian.

Additionally, barn cats and mice testing positive for H1N1 raise concerns about potential community spread beyond farms.

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