Multistate Outbreak in Cows Jumps to Humans: CDC Reports


In April, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported the first instance of a multistate outbreak in cows making the jump to humans. Scientists are now urging global action to prevent human-to-human transmission of a deadly pandemic that they describe as “unfolding in slow motion.”

The warning comes amid an ongoing outbreak of avian influenza A (H5N1), or bird flu, in dairy cows in the US. On April 1, the CDC confirmed what is believed to be the first mammal-to-human transmission of the virus. This occurred after an individual in Texas came into contact with dairy cows presumed to be infected.

Two months later, a 59-year-old man in Mexico died from a type of bird flu, H5N2, which had never been recorded in humans before. Before his death, he exhibited symptoms consistent with this infectious type of influenza, including fever, shortness of breath, diarrhea, nausea, and general malaise. Health officials have ruled out a direct connection to the US outbreak, although cases have been reported in some poultry farms in Mexico.

Regardless of these connections, bird flu is trending in a worrying direction. The United States Department of Agriculture has recorded 56 cases in livestock herds over the last 30 days.

“It almost seems like a pandemic unfolding in slow motion,” said Scott Hensley, a professor of microbiology at the University of Pennsylvania. “Right now, the threat is pretty low… but that could change in a heartbeat,” he told Reuters.

Currently, federal surveillance of US dairy cows is limited to testing herds before they cross state lines. Scientists emphasize the need for more comprehensive measures to prevent a potential escalation of the virus.

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