Bird Flu Strikes Nation's Dairy Cows, Infecting Texas Farm Worker

Apr 24, 2024

How Bird Flu Can Spread to Humans

H5N1, a highly infectious strain of bird flu, isn’t just infecting winged creatures anymore. Scientists are worried. But they're not panicking.

The virus has led to the death or slaughter of 85 million birds since 2021. It's now threatening the nation’s dairy cows. Even more startling, a Texas dairy farm worker was recently infected with the illness. But it likely came from a cow, not a bird. His symptoms are also minor. 

As of last week, H5N1 had struck at least 32 herds of dairy cows in eight states. These include North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas, Ohio, Kansas, Michigan, New Mexico, and South Dakota.

"What is happening with (H5N1) in Michigan mirrors what is happening in states across the country, " said Tim Boring. He's director of the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development. “This virus does not stop at county or state lines, which is why we must all be on high alert."

The virus has infected other species elsewhere around the world. Among these are polar bears, penguins, minks, and sea lions. But cows were formerly thought unlikely to catch it. So far, it is unclear if the illness is for sure spreading among members of the same species. But that could change as H5N1 mutates, scientists say. 

Biologists say there’s little chance the virus could threaten humans who drink milk and eat eggs. This is because of pasteurization and cooking. What about the chance that humans could get very ill from H5N1? Scientists point out that the Texas man suffered eye inflammation. A Colorado poultry worker who contracted the virus in 2022 felt only fatigue

“Be aware," Philip Meade, an Icahn School of Medicine virologist in New York City, told Slate, "but not alarmed.”

Reflect: When you get sick, what are your go-to methods for getting better quickly?

Which of the following details can be found in both the article AND the infographic? (Common Core RI.5.7; RI.6.7)
a. Bird flu can be transmitted to humans, but it is rare.
b. Bird flu has spread to many states since 2021.
c. Bird flu can be transmitted to cows.
d. Bird flu has been transmitted to cows in 8 different states.
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