Bird flu in Texas has spread to some workers

The first calls Dr. Barb Petersen received in early March were from dairy owners concerned about the deaths of crows, pigeons and other birds on their Texas farms. Then came the news that the barn cats – half of them on a farm – had died suddenly.

Within days, the Amarillo veterinarian heard of sick cows exhibiting unusual symptoms: high fever, unwillingness to eat and much less milk. Tests for typical illnesses came back negative.

Petersen, who monitors more than 40,000 cattle on a dozen farms in the Texas Panhandle, collected samples from cats and cows and sent them to Dr. Drew Magstadt, a college friend who now works at the Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory in Iowa State University.

The samples tested positive for a bird flu virus never before seen in cattle. It was the first evidence that avian flu, known as type A H5N1, could infect cows. As of Wednesday, 36 U.S. herds had confirmed infections, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“It was just a surprise,” Petersen recalls. “It was just a little bit of disbelief.”

At the same time, on almost every farm housing sick animals, Petersen said she also sees sick people.

“We were actively monitoring humans,” Petersen said. “I had people who never missed work, who never missed work.”

So far, two people in the United States have been confirmed infected with H5N1, most recently a Texas dairy worker linked to the livestock outbreak, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About two dozen people have been tested and about 100 people have been monitored since the virus appeared in cows, Dr. Demeter Daskalakis, the CDC’s respiratory disease chief, told reporters Wednesday.

Daskalakis said the CDC has not seen any unusual flu trends in areas with infected cows, but some experts question whether anecdotal reports of sick workers mean more than one person caught the animal virus.

Petersen said some workers experienced flu-like symptoms: fever and body aches, stuffy noses or congestion. Some suffered from conjunctivitis, an eye inflammation detected in a Texas dairy worker diagnosed with bird flu.

Dr. Gregory Gray, an infectious disease epidemiologist at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston, took samples from livestock and people at two Texas farms. On farms where cattle infections have been confirmed, cases of mild illness have also been reported among workers, it said.

His research was difficult. Many workers are hesitant to get tested. This may be because they have limited access to healthcare or fear disclosing private health information.

Without confirmation, no one knows whether the sick workers were infected with the bird flu virus or something unrelated, Gray said.

“They appear to be related in time and space, so you could say it’s biologically plausible,” Gray said.

Some of the workers who became ill sought treatment and were offered oseltamivir, an antiviral drug sold under the brand name Tamiflu, Petersen said.

Some farmworkers who were exposed to infected animals or people were offered the drug, CDC spokesman Jason McDonald said. State health officials are responsible for evaluating and providing treatment, consistent with federal guidelines.

Texas health officials provided Tamiflu to the person infected with H5N1 and their family members, as well as two people at a second dairy farm who tested negative but were exposed to infected animals, said Chris Van Deusen, a spokesman for the Texas Department of State. Health services. He said he wasn’t sure if the antiviral had been offered to other people.

Farmers have been reluctant to allow health officials onto their land, said Dr. Kay Russo, a Colorado veterinarian who has consulted with Petersen on the outbreak.

“This particular disease is considered a scarlet letter,” Russo said. “There’s this stigma associated with it right now. »

Russo called for broader testing of livestock, humans and milk.

“We don’t know what we’re not measuring,” she said. “Unfortunately, the horse left the stable and took off much faster than we could mobilize him.”

Gray worries that a recent federal order requiring testing of all lactating dairy cows moving between states could further hamper cooperation. All laboratories that perform tests must report positive results to the Department of Agriculture. But many farmers might simply decide not to test, hoping to survive the outbreak, he said.

The reluctance of workers and farmers to allow testing “greatly hinders” understanding of how the virus spreads, how big the outbreak is now and how quickly it could grow, Gray said.

“It’s a negative effect, a very negative one,” he said.

Petersen said she understands the fears of workers and farmers. She praised the farmers who agreed to let her collect the first samples confirming the outbreak and reflected on what the results might mean.

“One immediately thinks of the cows, the people who care for them and the families who own these farms,” she said. “You think about the big picture, long term. Your mind starts going down this whole worry route.


The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Science and Education Media Group. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

News Source :
Gn Health

Back to top button