Colorado dairy workers have contracted bird flu, raising the total count of infected humans to four in an outbreak that originated from cattle this spring. Colorado’s public health officials revealed that the man was not severely ill; he only suffered from conjunctivitis, an inflammation of the eye.

The Colorado Health Department declared that the man received antiviral treatment and recovered. He is employed at a dairy farm in northeastern Colorado, which exposed him to infected dairy cattle with Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (H5N1). Essentials reported that Colorado health officials provided personal protective equipment to the facility where the man worked. Herlihy of the Boston Herald stated that none of the other family members who had close contact with the farmworker have fallen ill, and there is no evidence of case-to-case transmission.

Approximately three other dairy workers who were infected before — one in Texas in April and another in Michigan in May — also developed eye inflammation. A second employee from Michigan, who became ill in late May, described a cough, eye discomfort, and watering. This worker was the first to report more severe respiratory and eye complaints. He began exhibiting symptoms towards the end of June and reported them to his employers the next day. Authorities added that the worker was tested two days after the onset of symptoms. Initial tests were negative, but further tests conducted at the CDC confirmed the presence of the bird flu virus.

Health and agriculture departments in the United States have repeatedly stressed that dairy farm owners must ensure their workers wear protective gear when handling affected cows. Dairy farm employees often manually stimulate a cow’s teats to release milk before connecting milking machinery. Eyes could be directly exposed to splashes of contaminated milk, or the virus could enter through the eye if a worker touches their face with contaminated hands.

Most public health experts have noted that inadequate testing of cattle hampers efforts to assess and contain the spread of the disease, first identified in March, but possibly present in cows since December. CDC officials reiterated this week that their assessment of the risk remains unchanged. The risk to the general public is not high. While dairy workers who come into contact with infected animals are at higher risk, U.S. officials do not consider any specific groups of people necessary for vaccination.

Federal officials have outlined strategies to boost vaccine and test production due to the bird flu outbreak in dairy cattle, anticipating a potential rise in human cases, the emergence of a new, more transmissible or severe strain, or cases not directly linked to infected cattle or people. The U.S. government has stockpiled 4.8 million doses of bird flu vaccine, with these shots expected to be in circulation by mid-July. The government has also allocated $176 million for the development and clinical trials of an H5N1 vaccine based on mRNA technology with Moderna.

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