Don’t panic over rare bird flu infection, says Texas agriculture commissioner

In an interview with The Hill on Wednesday, Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller reassured the public that there is no need to panic over the recent case of a Texas dairy worker being infected with H5N1 bird flu.

The bird flu has recently infected a human, marking only the second confirmed case in the U.S. This occurrence coincides with the spread of the virus among cows in at least five states.

The Cal-Maine Foods egg production plant in Farwell, Texas, has been temporarily closed by Miller following positive tests for bird flu. As a result of this order, the industrial farm will have to “depopulate” nearly 2 million chickens and dispose of all eggs. This action accounts for almost 4 percent of its total flock.

Miller expressed confidence in the preparedness of the government and the safety of the public, despite the immediate commercial losses.

According to Miller, the consumer message seems to be that the situation is not a major concern. With only one person out of over 300 million being affected, the symptoms are said to be mild and the products remain safe. There is no need to worry about shortages or interrupted supplies.

He added, “There is no need for the public or farmers to panic.”

Cal-Maine Foods, one of the largest poultry farms in Texas, expressed deep concern over the development, which company spokesperson Miller referred to as “devastating” in his initial statement. The Hill contacted Cal-Maine Foods for further comment.

According to Miller, the value of a chicken is around $3 each. He emphasized that when you consider the millions of hens and the millions of eggs they produce every week, the financial impact adds up rapidly.

However, he mentioned that the plant could potentially resume operations earlier than anticipated.

He said that if they properly dispose of the birds and clean up and disinfect the facility, they could have it up and running within 30 days.

The method by which the flu is being transmitted from chickens to cows and whether it can be spread between cattle is still unknown. According to Miller, Cal-Maine has not relocated any parts of its flock for slaughter recently.

Health officials are closely monitoring any mutations in the virus that could potentially pose a threat to humans. Despite this, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has sought to downplay concerns of a widespread pandemic.

According to the CDC, the risk assessment for the general public regarding the H5N1 bird flu remains low, despite the presence of this infection.

Miller expressed his confidence in the CDC, stating that they have stockpiles of human vaccines for bird flu that are ready to be used.

Both the dairy worker and the first case of human bird flu in the U.S. in 2022 were caused by direct prolonged exposure in a livestock processing setting. Fortunately, those who were infected experienced only minor symptoms and fully recovered.

According to Miller, the dairy hand contracted the virus from an unknown source, potentially the cows. However, it was noted that his symptoms were relatively mild. Miller also mentioned that the majority of the workers at the dairy facility are in good physical condition due to the demanding nature of their work.

“We must not underestimate the severity of symptoms in elderly individuals, as they can be life-threatening. It is crucial that we take every necessary precaution to ensure their safety.”

The CDC advises individuals to maintain good hygiene, steer clear of sick or deceased animals, animal waste, and the consumption of untreated or raw animal products such as raw milk or eggs.

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MBS Staff
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