Georgia health, agriculture officials monitoring for bird flu

Dairy herds found infected in five states, along with one human case, but dairy products still safe to consume.

With this week’s report of the second human case of bird flu being found in the U.S., health officials in Georgia say they are continuing routine monitoring for the virus in animals and people here as well.

On Monday it was reported a dairy worker in Texas was being treated for bird flu. The infection, described as mild, came days after the virus was discovered in dairy cows in Texas. It’s the first known case globally of a person catching this version of bird flu — known as highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) — from a mammal, federal health officials said. The risk to the public remains low, health officials said.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the patient reported eye redness consistent with conjunctivitis as their only symptom, and is recovering. The patient was told to isolate and is being treated with an antiviral drug for flu. Health officials say the person had been in contact with cows reported infected days earlier by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Here in Georgia, agriculture officials say there have been no reports of the virus in Georgia’s dairy cows, and no recent reports of the virus in poultry.

“We have not had any reports of HPAI in Georgia dairy cattle nor have we had any confirmations in poultry since November of last year,” Matthew Agvent, communications director for the Georgia Department of Agriculture, said Tuesday. Our team is in constant communication with USDA and FDA as well as our key stakeholders on the ground in Georgia to reinforce the need for enhanced biosecurity measures and relay new information as it comes to light.”

“The risk to the general public remains low, and Georgia consumers can and should feel confident in the safety of dairy products available for sale in our state,” Aqvent said.

A spokeswoman for the Georgia Department of Public Health also said Wednesday there have been no cases of the virus in humans here nor are there any suspected cases being investigated.

The only previous human case in the U.S. was found in 2022 when a poultry worker in Colorado tested positive. The person was involved in culling poultry infected with bird flu, also known as H5N1. The person reported fatigue for a few days as their only symptom and recovered, according to the CDC.

“This infection does not change the H5N1 bird flu human health risk assessment for the U.S. general public, which CDC considers to be low,” the federal health agency wrote in a press release. “However, people with close or prolonged, unprotected exposures to infected birds or other animals (including livestock), or to environments contaminated by infected birds or other animals, are at greater risk of infection.”

Avian influenza viruses are classified as either “low pathogenic” or “highly pathogenic” based on their genetic features and the severity of the disease they cause in poultry, according to USDA. In addition to birds and poultry, H5N1 viruses have been detected in a variety of mammals in the U.S., which USDA tracks.

Globally, tens of thousands of animals — from seals, leopards, foxes, penguins, otters, minks and many others — have been found infected and dead since 2022.

Last month, bird flu was found in a baby goat in Minnesota, the first case in U.S. livestock. The virus has now been detected in dairy herds in five states by USDA: Texas, Kansas, Michigan, Idaho and New Mexico. Tests performed showed the viruses came from the same genetic clade widespread among birds globally.

Preliminary analysis has not found changes in the viruses that would make them resistant to current FDA-approved flu antiviral medications, the CDC said.

According to FDA and USDA, there are no concerns with the safety of the commercial milk supply at this time because products are pasteurized before entering the market. Dairies are required to send only milk from healthy animals into processing for human consumption.

“The risk to the general public remains low, and Georgia consumers can and should feel confident in the safety of dairy products available for sale in our state,” Agvent said.

Milk from affected animals is being diverted or destroyed so that it does not enter the human food supply.

This report compiled by staff writers Ariel Hart and Laura Weaver along with The Associated Press

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect a fifth state, Idaho, where cattle were confirmed with the bird flu virus.