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Second US human bird flu infection reported in Michigan

Jessica Nix and Riley Griffin, Bloomberg News on

Published in News & Features

A Michigan farmworker tested positive with bird flu, the second person to contract the potentially lethal virus that has run rampant in U.S. cattle.

The farmworker experienced mild symptoms in the eye after contact with an infected cow and has since recovered, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Wednesday. Michigan officials said Monday that three additional cattle herds had tested positive for bird flu.

The country’s first human case of bird flu from cattle was announced in a Texas farm worker in late March. That patient had an eye infection with the virus, called H5N1, and was treated with an antiviral. Health officials maintain that the risk to the public remains low, as there’s been no human-to-human transmission.

As of late Wednesday, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has reported 52 herds in nine states have tested positive for bird flu. Health officials said they have antivirals and vaccine candidates on hand should they be needed.

The U.S. is also in talks with Moderna Inc. and Pfizer Inc. about the development of messenger RNA avian flu vaccines, Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response Dawn O’Connell said on a call with reporters. Moderna declined to comment and Pfizer didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Given the high levels of the virus in raw, unpasteurized milk and the extent of spread through dairy cows, the CDC said, more cases may be identified in people.

Michigan Farmworker

The human infection in Michigan “was not unexpected,” Nirav Shah, principal deputy director of the CDC, said on the call. “We found this case because we were looking for this case.”


After Michigan identified an H5N1-infected cattle herd, the farm worker was enrolled in an active surveillance program, which is currently monitoring 170 people across the state. The program sends daily texts to assess workers’ symptoms, Shah said.

When the worker in question reported mild eye symptoms, Shah said, health officials obtained swabs of the worker’s eyes and nose.

Those samples arrived at the CDC on Tuesday. While the nasal swab tested negative for an H5 subtype of influenza A virus, the eye swab tested positive. Shah said it’s “reassuring” that the nasal swab tested negative, because it reduces the likelihood of respiratory spread.

The agency notified Michigan on Tuesday after receiving the positive result and will make results of the viral sequence available within days. It will also conduct a genetic analysis to see if the virus has mutated in a way that could make it more dangerous, as well as how it interacts with existing antivirals and vaccine candidates, Shah said.


(With assistance from Damian Garde.)

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