Avian Influenza (H5N1) Update – May 15, 2024

Infectious Diseases

Are there any updates on what’s happening with the current Bird Flu outbreak?

Here is what’s new and what we know about the current H5N1 outbreak:

In a nutshell:

⚫ According to the USDA there are now 46 affected cattle herds across nine states (although testing remains patchy and spread is likely wider).

⚫ There is still only one confirmed human case of H5N1 – this was in a dairy farm worker in Texas, who presented with conjunctivitis (“Pink Eye”) and has since recovered.

⚫ Last Friday the USDA and HHS (US Department of Health and Human Services) announced financial measures to help reduce the impact and spread of H5N1.

⚫ A preprint* research paper from the Baylor College of Medicine showed that wastewater surveillance in 9 cities in Texas contained traces of the virus. This was most likely of bovine and avian origin, i.e from cows and birds, not humans.

⚫ On Tuesday the CDC launched its wastewater surveillance dashboard for Influenza A. This interactive map will be updated regularly and show the current Influenza A levels across its sites. Here is a link to the dashboard: Influenza A Virus Wastewater Data

On Friday May 10, the USDA and HHS announced plans to reduce the impact and spread of H5N1. Although according to the CDC, the risk to the general public remains low, around $101 million funding from the CDC and FDA will be made available to tackle the virus. This will be used to scale up laboratory capacity, genomic sequencing and surveillance. It also includes funding to analyze currently available vaccines and develop new ones should this become a necessity.

In addition, the USDA has pledged $98 million to provide financial support for farmers. This includes assistance with the cost of personal protective equipment for dairy farmworkers, help with veterinary costs for testing and the safe disposal of contaminated milk. It will also compensate farmers who are experiencing a loss of milk production because their cattle have tested positive. This is good news, as financial aid will hopefully enable wider testing and allow affected farmers to receive help to manage this situation.

State governments and the USDA are also working together to limit the movement of dairy cows and thereby reduce further spread of the virus.

On Tuesday May 14, the CDC launched its Wastewater Surveillance dashboard. This includes more than 600 sites across the US. It is important to note that this can monitor for Influenza A, but it can’t distinguish subgroups or tell what the source of the virus might be. However in rural areas many people use septic tanks, so this type of surveillance might not give us the full picture. That said, wastewater monitoring is a well-established method that can function as an early warning system.

Bottom line:

There is still a lot we don’t know about this outbreak, but scientists and government agencies are working hard to find the missing pieces and come up with strategies to prevent Bird Flu from spreading further among cows and becoming a danger for humans.

How can you stay safe? The advice hasn’t changed, but here is a quick reminder:

✅ Avoid consuming raw dairy products – however pasteurized dairy products are safe
✅ Avoid contact with sick or dead wild animals
✅ If you have a pet dog or cat don’t allow them to play with sick or dead birds
✅ And if you have a bird feeder – as of April 24 there is no official recommendation to take them down as songbirds are a lower risk from bird flu unless you also have domestic poultry
✅ Handwashing with soap and water is generally good practice and will protect you from many yucky germs, not just the flu

We are closely monitoring the situation, and will keep you informed of any important news, but for now don’t let this take up too much of your headspace.

Stay safe, stay well,
Those Nerdy Girls

Further reading and resources:

Avian flu update – May 8

CDC – H5N1 Current situation Summary

CDC A(H5N1) Bird Flu Response Update

USDA, HHS Announce New Actions to Reduce Impact and Spread of H5N1

Fact Sheet: USDA, HHS Announce New Actions to Reduce Impact and Spread of H5N1

BMJ Preprint – Virome identifies H5N1 Avian Influenza in Wastewater from Nine Cities
(*preprint means this has not been certified through peer-review yet. It reports new research that has yet to be evaluated, however this paper has been produced by a reputable institution and has followed all required processes and procedures)

Avian influenza Outbreak – should you take down your bird feeders?

Avian influenza in birds