- An outbreak of bird flu that resulted in the deaths of millions of birds resulted in human infection.
- An inmate working on a farm was the first US citizen to contract the virus.
- But the CDC maintains that the human risk remains low despite infection.
An inmate has tested positive for bird flu, marking the first human case in the US.
The virus outbreak is highly contagious to birds, so much so that nearly 27 million chickens and turkeys have been mass-killed since January 2022 to stop the spread, but the risk of infection among humans remains relatively low.
The man was exposed to the H5N1 virus while working on a Colorado farm slaughtering, or slaughtering, birds suspected of having the virus, NBC News reported.
The outlet reported that the man was working on a Montrose County farm while participating in a pre-release employment program. While the other inmates in the program have tested negative, they are still being monitored.
The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment reported that the man’s only symptom was fatigue and that it has since disappeared after taking a flu antiviral drug known as oseltamivir, or Tamiflu. They identified him as “under 40 years of age” but provided no additional information about his identity.
The department says all the birds in the flock were euthanized and all the inmates at the farm were provided with personal protective equipment.
“We want to reassure Coloradans that the risk to them is low,” said Dr. Rachel Herlihy, a state epidemiologist with the department. “I am grateful for the seamless collaboration between CDC, the Department of Corrections, the Department of Agriculture and CDPHE as we continue to monitor this virus and protect all Coloradans.”
“The CDC has tracked the health of more than 2,500 people exposed to birds infected with the H5N1 virus and this is the only case found to date. Other people involved in the slaughter operation in Colorado have tested negative for H5N1 infection. H5 virus, but are being re-evaluated out of an abundance of caution,” the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in a statement Thursday.
He was the second human on record to test positive. The first was in 2021 in the UK, according to the World Health Organization.
However, the CDC maintains that the human risk remains low despite this infection in the US.
“More than 880 human infections with prior H5N1 viruses have been reported since 2003 worldwide, however, the predominant H5N1 viruses now circulating among birds globally are different from prior H5N1 viruses,” the Center added in its statement.
The outbreak has affected more than thirty states and has resulted in a spike in egg prices as the avian influenza strain continues to kill birds in the US, Insider previously reported. The mortality rate is 90% for those birds that catch it.
The outbreak is hitting the US harder than it has in seven years, The Guardian reported.
An egg factory, Rembrandt Enterprises, The Guardian reported, roasted more than 5 million chickens to contain the virus when only one tested positive for the virus. After burying the chickens in pits, 250 of the workers were laid off and only a few core members remained.
The factory used a method called ventilation off plus (VSD+) to kill the birds. It requires removing the air and then increasing the heat to over 100 degrees Fahrenheit.
“They cooked those birds alive,” a Rembrandt worker told The Guardian.
Animal rights groups such as Animal Outlook have criticized the culling as cruel.
“We can now see this pervasive inherent cruelty for what it really is, demand accountability under the law, and withdraw our support of this industry by refusing to buy animal products,” the organization’s website says.
The CDC says that cooking poultry and eggs to an internal temperature of 165˚F kills H5N1 viruses.
The CDC, the Colorado Department of Health and Animal Outlook did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment.