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Texas is one of nine states so far in 2024 with reported cases of bird flu detected in domestic livestock and at least one human.

An outbreak of the latest strain of highly pathogenic avian influenza, or H5N1, in the United States began in Texas this spring. The first case was reported at a dairy cattle operation on March 25. Since then, bird flu has been detected in 81 dairy herds in the country—15 of them in Texas—according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Texas Health and Human Services reported that a dairy worker in the Panhandle tested positive for the virus in April. The Texas case is one of three known human cases of H5N1 in the country and the only one believed to be transmitted by cattle rather than poultry. The other two cases were in Michigan.

The Highland Lakes is currently far from the H5N1 hotbeds, but experts say the situation is still developing.


Bird flu is a virus that has spread worldwide among wild and domestic birds, but it is not limited to fowl. Cattle, humans, skunks, foxes, sea lions, leopards, and squirrels are just some of its potential hosts.

The virus is highly contagious among birds but affects different species in different ways, according to the CDC. Certain types of wild ducks might show no symptoms, but the virus can be fatal to chickens, turkeys, and domestic ducks. It is believed that bird flu is spread by migrating waterfowl.


Bird flu can cause sudden death in domestic birds with little warning. Infected animals might show signs of low energy or appetite and produce fewer eggs.

Nearly 2 million birds are currently quarantined for potential bird flu contamination at a poultry plant in Parmer County, Texas, according to the Texas Animal Health Commission.

Infected cattle might produce less milk, or the milk is thicker than usual or discolored. Bird flu is rarely deadly in cattle, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association.

The virus can be spread from cow to cow or cow to human, but it has not spread from human to human so far.

The Panhandle dairy worker’s only reported symptom was eye irritation. Human symptoms can vary wildly, depending on the situation and the exact iteration of the virus.

H5N1 has been around since 1996, when it emerged in the poultry industry of southern China. That first outbreak led to 18 cases of infection in humans, six of which were fatal.

Outbreaks began in the United States among commercial and backyard poultry operations in late 2021.

According to the World Health Organization, 889 cases of the virus have been reported in humans since 2003, and 463, or 52 percent, of them were fatal.


Milk, beef, and poultry are safe to eat, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Bird flu is not a foodborne illness, so meat and eggs that are cooked properly have little to no chance of causing infection.

The virus is typically transmitted through exposure to living or recently dead animals. It can be transmitted to humans from birds through saliva, mucous, or feces. According to the CDC, it is possible to become infected with the virus through exposure to raw milk from infected cattle.

“The FDA and USDA have indicated that based on the information we currently have, our commercial milk supply is safe because of both the pasteurization process and that milk from sick cows is being diverted or destroyed,” reads an FDA report.

The high heat applied to commercial milk sources through the pasteurization process destroys the virus.