CDC Confirms First Human Case of Bird Flu in Colorado Man

Health officials say the public health risk assessment remains low after the first person in the United States tested positive for the current strain of avian influenza

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An inmate at a Colorado prison has been confirmed as the first person in the United States to test positive for the current strain of bird flu (highly pathogenic avian influenza, HPAI) after direct exposure to infected poultry, health officials confirmed Thursday.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) say the man, who is under 40, only reported fatigue as his symptoms and he is in isolation while being treated with the antiviral drug oseltamivir.

"This is the second human case associated with this specific group of H5 viruses that are currently predominant, and the first case in the United States," the CDC said in a release.

Public health officials in the United Kingdom previously confirmed the bird flu in January in a person who was asymptomatic and had direct contact with infected birds.

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The CDPHE says the Colorado man — who has since recovered — contracted the virus while working with poultry on a commercial farm in Montrose County. The infected flock has reportedly been euthanized and disposed of "under guidance of the USDA and CDA."

"Because the person was in close contact with infected poultry, the virus may have been present in the person's nose without causing infection," the department says, while the CDC notes the "appropriate public health response at this time is to assume this is an infection and take actions to contain and treat."

According to experts, infected birds shed flu viruses in their saliva, mucous, and feces. Despite the confirmed case, the CDC assures the human health risk assessment remains low.

"This one H5-positive human case does not change the human health risk assessment," the CDC says. "CDC will continue to watch this situation closely for signs that the risk to human health has changed."

"CDC is taking routine preparedness and prevention measures, which includes an existing candidate vaccine virus that could be used to make vaccine for people if one were needed," they continued.

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The HPAI has been found in commercial and backyard farms in more than 24 states and has caused the death of over 23 million birds, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Officials believe the current outbreak in the United States is the worst since 2015, when more than 50 million birds died or were euthanized because of the flu.

However, the CDC says there is currently no evidence to suggest that the virus can be transmitted to humans from poultry that is handled and cooked properly. Health officials also urge the public to wash hands and clothing after coming in contact with poultry or other outdoor birds.

"We want to reassure Coloradans that the risk to them is low," Dr. Rachel Herlihy, state epidemiologist for the CDPHE, said in the release. "I am grateful for the seamless collaboration between CDC, Department of Corrections, Department of Agriculture, and CDPHE, as we continue to monitor this virus and protect all Coloradans."

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