Colorado inmate tests positive for bird flu, health officials say

A Colorado man has tested positive for bird flu, also known as H5N1 flu. The man, under the age of 40 and being held at a state correctional facility in Delta County, is largely asymptomatic, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment said Thursday, adding that the risk to the public was low.

The man tested positive following direct exposure to infected poultry at a commercial farm in Montrose County, according to the health department. He worked with poultry as part of a pre-release employment program “where participants have the opportunity to work for private employers and be paid at prevailing wages”.

The infected man only said he felt tired and has since recovered, according to a CDC statement. He isolates and receives the anti-influenza antiviral drug oseltamivir, commonly known as tamiflu, according to CDC guidelines.

Following advice from the United States Department of Agriculture and the Colorado Department of Agriculture, officials “euthanized and disposed of” the affected herd.

Health officials have said the H5N1 flu is unlikely to spread to other people because bird viruses don’t normally infect humans, nor do they spread from person to person. There have been no reported cases of this H5N1 flu spreading among people, and there are no other confirmed human cases in Colorado or the United States, officials said. The CDC said the spread of earlier H5N1 viruses between humans “has occurred very infrequently and has not led to sustained person-to-person spread.”

The CDC said in a statement Thursday that it has been monitoring bird flu in the United States since late 2021. H5N1 has been detected in commercial and backyard birds in 29 states, and in wild birds in 34 states.

The only other known human case was reported in the UK in December 2021, according to the CDC.

“We want to reassure Coloradans that the risk to them is low,” Dr. Rachel Herlihy, state epidemiologist with the health department, said in a statement. “I am grateful for the continued collaboration between the CDC, Department of Corrections, Department of Agriculture, and CDPHE as we continue to monitor this virus and protect all Coloradans.”

Influenza typically spreads among wild birds and poultry when animals “shed influenza viruses in their saliva, mucous membranes and feces,” the health department said.

Health officials said people should avoid sick or dead birds. Those handling sick or dead birds should wear gloves and wash their hands with soap and water.

The health department added that it is safe to eat properly handled and cooked poultry and poultry products. Poultry and eggs should be cooked to an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit to kill bacteria and viruses, including H5N1 viruses.

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