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Bird flu: First human case in US confirmed in Colorado

DELTA COUNTY, Colo. — An inmate at Colorado’s Delta Correctional Center is the first person in the United States to test positive for the avian influenza, or bird flu, state officials confirmed Thursday.

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The highly pathogenic strain of avian influenza has prompted widespread quarantines and culling of both commercial and backyard poultry flocks in recent months.

The Colorado man is actually the second person worldwide to test positive for the particular H5N1 strain. The first known human case was reported in late 2021 after a retired engineer in the United Kingdom who lived with about 20 ducks inside his home tested positive, The Colorado Sun reported.

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The Colorado inmate came in contact with the virus while working at a Montrose County commercial farm as part of a pre-release employment program, according to a joint news release from the Colorado Department of Corrections, the state Department of Agriculture and the state Department of Public Health and Environment.

State officials confirmed that the man remains “largely asymptomatic, reporting only fatigue” and is currently isolating and receiving an antiviral drug, oseltamivir, per guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, The Denver Gazette reported.

“In general, the risk of this virus to the public is low and continues to be low. Our recommendation to the public (is) to try and limit your exposure to wild birds,” State Epidemiologist Dr. Rachel Herlihy stated in the news release.

“What is not certain (is) if this detection of the virus in this individual means this individual was infected with the virus ... or if the virus was just present in his nose, perhaps as it can be present in the environment,” she added.

The affected flock of about 60,000 at the Montrose County poultry farm has been euthanized, according to the Sun.

The virus typically transfers from bird to bird; however, if a person contracts the virus, it does not normally spread from person to person, the news release stated, noting “There are no other confirmed cases in Colorado or the United States at this time.”

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the virus had been detected in 33 states by Thursday, The Denver Gazette reported.

People who must be in contact with birds should wear gloves, a respirator face mask and eye goggles, and they should wash their hands thoroughly with soap and water afterward, Herlihy told the Sun.

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