CDC and WebMD Update on Current Bird Flu Outbreak: ‘Be Alert, Not Alarmed’

CDC and WebMD Update on Current Bird Flu Outbreak | Healthcare 360 Magazine


As bird flu continues to spread among cattle in the U.S., WebMD and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provided an update on the outbreak during a live-streamed briefing on Thursday.

The presentation, titled “WebMD and CDC Present: 2024 Bird Flu – What You Need to Know,” was moderated by Dr. Neha Pathak, chief physician editor for WebMD in Atlanta, Georgia.

Bird Flu Initial Reports and Spread

The first signs of illness in dairy cows were reported to the USDA in early March, explained Eric Deeble, deputy assistant secretary for the Office of Congressional Relations at the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Testing confirmed that the cows had contracted H5N1, commonly known as avian influenza or bird flu.

“Any new disease in cattle is of great concern to us,” Deeble said. “H5N1 in cattle is a relatively mild disease. They generally recover with supportive care within two to three weeks.”

The USDA has detected H5N1 in 49 dairy herds across nine states, affecting around 1% of dairy farms in those states and about 0.1% nationally. A federal order took effect on April 29, limiting the movement of lactating dairy cattle to monitor and compile H5N1 test results. This order requires dairy farmers to test their cows before moving them across state lines to ensure they are H5N1-free.

No Risk to Food Supply

Deeble reassured the public that there is no risk associated with consuming milk and meat from these animals. “Our commercial milk and meat supplies are safe,” he stated. “At no time were animals sick from H5N1 allowed to enter the food supply.”

He added that the USDA has never detected H5N1 in meat sold at retail, and cooking meat to an internal temperature of 155°F or higher eliminates the virus. Pasteurization of milk also ensures its safety by inactivating H5N1 and other pathogens.

Dr. Nirav D. Shah, principal deputy director of the CDC, emphasized that the overall risk to the public from bird flu remains low. “It is rare for people to get infected with bird flu viruses, but it has happened,” Shah noted. Transmission usually occurs through direct, unprotected contact with infected animals.

In April, the CDC reported one human case of bird flu in a dairy worker in Texas, who experienced only mild symptoms such as eye redness and fully recovered after antiviral treatment. No additional human cases have been reported since then.

Ongoing Precautions

The CDC is taking aggressive steps to ensure public safety and keep Americans informed. Shah highlighted the importance of farm worker safety and protection, including access to personal protective equipment like gloves, goggles, and face masks to reduce exposure risk.

The CDC is also working with local health departments to test sick farmers for bird flu and monitor their health. Additionally, CDC scientists are examining bird flu viruses for any changes in their DNA that might indicate a higher risk of transmission or more severe illness.

Guidance for At-Risk Groups

Although the overall risk to humans is low, Shah offered specific advice for people working with animals. “If you work around animals and develop flu-like symptoms, it’s important to contact a healthcare provider.”

Shah reassured the public that the current bird flu situation is different from the early days of COVID-19. “We are in a much different place due to over two decades of investment in planning and preparing for influenza,” he said.

In conclusion, while the bird flu outbreak among cattle is concerning, current measures and precautions are effective in managing the situation. The CDC and USDA continue to monitor the outbreak closely, ensuring the safety of both the food supply and public health.

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