First case of human bird flu infection confirmed in Colorado

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A Colorado prison inmate has tested positive for bird flu in the primary recent confirmed case of a human infected with the disease that has resulted within the deaths of thousands and thousands of chickens and turkeys, but federal officials say they still see little threat to most people.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Thursday evening that the person who tested positive had been in a prerelease program and was helping to remove chickens from an infected farm. The person, who was under age 40, reported fatigue for just a few days but has since recovered, state health and CDC officials said in a press release.

The person was isolated and is being treated with an antiviral drug. Other people involved within the bird removal operation in Colorado have tested negative, but they’re being retested out of an abundance of caution.

On this Oct. 21, 2015, file photo, cage-free chickens walk in a fenced pasture at an organic farm near Waukon, Iowa. The confirmation of bird flu at one other Iowa egg-laying farm will force the killing of greater than 5 million chickens, officials said Friday, March 18, 2022. Spread of the disease is essentially blamed on the droppings or nasal discharge of infected wild birds, corresponding to geese and geese, which may contaminate dust and soil.

Charlie Neibergall / AP

Despite the infection, the CDC considers the threat to most people to be low because spread of the virus to people requires close contact with an infected bird.

Signals that might raise the general public health risk might include multiple reports of virus infections in people from exposure to birds, or identification of spread from one infected person to a detailed contact. The CDC is also monitoring the bird flu virus for genetic changes, which could indicate the virus is adapting to spread more readily from birds to people or other mammals.

The present strain of bird flu, the H5N1, has been spreading amongst backyard and industrial chicken and turkey flocks within the U.S. since late February. Viruses have been present in U.S. industrial and backyard birds in 29 states and in wild birds in 34 states. Greater than 35 million chickens and turkeys have been killed and removed to avoid spread, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported.

The CDC said it has tracked the health of greater than 2,500 individuals who have been exposed to H5N1 virus-infected birds but that this was the one confirmed case thus far.

The CDC said it was possible the person only had the virus present in his nose but that his body was not infected. Colorado public health officials say repeat testing on the person was negative for influenza. A nasal swab positive test result meets the agency’s criteria for considering it an infection.

“The suitable public health response at the moment is to assume that is an infection and take actions to contain and treat,” the CDC statement said.