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Second Michigan human bird flu case also blamed on dairy cows

A second human H5N1 bird flu case has been found in Michigan, according to a Thursday statement from the state health department. A farmworker on another farm was infected by working closely with dairy cows, but that person was given anti-virals and is recovering from respiratory symptoms. Photo courtesy USDA
A second human H5N1 bird flu case has been found in Michigan, according to a Thursday statement from the state health department. A farmworker on another farm was infected by working closely with dairy cows, but that person was given anti-virals and is recovering from respiratory symptoms. Photo courtesy USDA

May 30 (UPI) -- A Michigan farmworker Thursday became the second confirmed human with a case of bird flu in the state, having contracted the H5N1 virus from infected dairy cows.

The state health department said the person worked closely with H5N1 influenza-positive cows. The worker was quickly provided anti-virals and is recovering from respiratory symptoms, according to Michigan's health department.

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The person worked at a different farm than the one for which the first known human case in Michigan was identified May 22. His only symptom was conjunctivitis, known commonly as pink eye.

Michigan chief medical executive Dr. Natasha Bagdasarian said in a statement, "Michigan has led a swift public health response, and we have been tracking this situation closely since influenza A (H5N1) was detected in poultry and dairy herds in Michigan. Farmworkers who have been exposed to impacted animals have been asked to report even mild symptoms, and testing for the virus has been made available."

Dr. Bagdasarian added, "With the first case in Michigan, eye symptoms occurred after a direct splash of infected milk to the eye. With this case, respiratory symptoms occurred after direct exposure to an infected cow. Neither individual was wearing full personal protective equipment (PPE). This tells us that direct exposure to infected livestock poses a risk to humans, and that PPE is an important tool in preventing spread among individuals who work on dairy and poultry farms."

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In a May 24 statement, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in a statement, "Current risk to the U.S. public from A(H5N1) viruses is low; however, persons exposed to infected animals or contaminated materials, including raw cow's milk, are at higher risk and should take precautions and self-monitor for illness."

The CDC said in that statement that the commercial milk supply is safe because pasteurization inactivates the bird flu viruses.

"However, all persons should avoid consuming raw milk or products produced from raw milk," the CDC said. "Importantly, the risk to the public might change based on whether A(H5N1) viruses acquire genetic changes that increase their transmissibility to and among humans, which could increase the risk of an influenza pandemic."

The case discovered May 22 in Michigan was similar to a case in Texas tied to a dairy farm there.

The Texas case was the first known human bird flu case linked to dairy cows.

A study released Wednesday, published in the journal Human Vaccines & Immuno-therapeutics, said humanity's best protection against bird flu will be development of effective new vaccines.

A concern of researchers is that, if the virus keeps spreading on U.S. farms, there's the potential for it to mutate and develop into a form that might easily spread among humans.

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