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Colorado inmate tests positive for H5N1 avian flu, health officials say


A Colorado man has tested positive for the avian flu, also known as H5N1 flu. The man, who is younger than 40 and an inmate 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 is low.

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

The infected man only reported feeling fatigued, and has since recovered, according to a statement from the CDC. He is isolating and receiving the influenza antiviral drug oseltamivir, commonly known as tamiflu, per CDC guidance. 

Following advice from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Colorado Department of Agriculture, officials “euthanized and disposed of” the affected flock.

Health officials said the H5N1 flu is unlikely to spread to other people, as avian viruses do not normally infect humans, nor do they spread from person to person. No instances of this H5N1 flu spreading among people have been reported, and there are no other confirmed human cases in Colorado or the United States, officials said. The CDC said spread of earlier H5N1 viruses between humans “have happened very rarely and have not led to sustained person-to-person spread.” 

The CDC said in a statement Thursday it has been monitoring the avian flu in the U.S. 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 United Kingdom in December 2021, according to the CDC.

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

The flu is usually spread among wild birds and poultry when the animals “shed flu viruses in their saliva, mucous, and feces,” the health department said.

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

The health department added 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 in order to kill bacteria and viruses, including H5N1 viruses.



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