Des Moines, Iowa >> A Colorado prison inmate became the first person in the United States to test positive for bird flu in a recent outbreak that killed millions of chickens and turkeys, but federal officials say they still see little threat to the general public.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said, Thursday evening, that the infected man was on a pre-release program and was helping get chickens out of an infected farm. Public health officials and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in a statement that the man, who was under the age of 40, reported fatigue for a few days but recovered.
The man has been isolated and treated with an antiviral drug. Other people involved in the bird removal operation in Colorado showed negative results, but were retested out of great caution.
Lisa Wiley, a spokeswoman for the Colorado Department of Corrections, said the man was part of a crew of prisoners about to be released and were working on the farm before a bird flu case was confirmed there on April 19. When bird flu was detected on the farm in Montrose County, inmates were asked to help kill the birds and put them out.
Agriculture officials reported an outbreak on a Montrose County farm with 58,000 chickens for broiler breeding.
Despite the infection, the CDC considers the risk to the general public to be low because the spread of the virus between people requires close contact with an infected bird.
Signs that could increase public health risks may include multiple reports of viral infections in people from exposure to birds, or identification of person-to-person spread. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also monitors genetic changes for the currently circulating H5N1 avian influenza virus. Any genetic changes could indicate that the virus is adapting to spread more easily from birds to humans or other mammals.
Many different bird flu viruses have infected humans around the world since at least the 1990s, but health officials still say human infections are uncommon.
In 2002, H7N2 caused roseola and mild respiratory symptoms in people in the United Kingdom and the United States, and four infections have been identified in the United States since 2002; Two cats were transferred to humans in 2016.
More than 1,500 people in China were infected with the H7N9 strain, largely in outbreaks between 2013 and 2017. This version caused severe infections in people and 40% of those hospitalized died.
A variant of the H5N1 virus has also spread since 1997, infecting more than 880 people, and has had a 50% fatality rate.
The current type of H5N1 has been circulating among flocks of backyard and commercial chickens and turkeys in the United States since late February. Viruses have been found in commercial birds and backyard birds in the United States in 29 states and in wild birds in 34 states. The USDA reports that more than 35 million chickens and turkeys have been killed and euthanized to avoid spreading.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said it has tracked the health of more than 2,500 people exposed to birds infected with H5N1 but the inmate disease was the only confirmed case so far.
The agency said it was possible that the man had the virus only in his nose and that his body was not infected. Colorado public health officials say the man repeatedly tested negative for the flu. A positive nasal swab test result meets the agency’s criteria for being considered an infection.
“The appropriate public health response at this time is to assume that this is an infection and to take action to contain and treat it,” the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention statement said.