Officials warn of risks to people amid bird flu outbreak in cows

By Meredith Lee Hill, Marcia Brown, Chelsea Cirruzzo | 05/02/2024 12:08 PM EDT

Federal testing and surveillance of the outbreak has so far lagged since initial detection in dairy cows more than a month ago.

Cows graze in a field at a dairy farm.

Cows graze in a field at a dairy farm April 26 in Petaluma, California. Justin Sullivan/AFP via Getty Images

The Biden administration said Wednesday it’s working to strengthen federal testing guidance and the overall public health response should the bird flu outbreak in cows spread among humans.

State health labs have sent “around 25” human test samples to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and for reference testing amid the current dairy outbreak, according to officials. And more than 100 workers are being monitored. Officials declined to answer questions from reporters about where in the country the monitored workers are, saying only that officials are “following the herd” of infected cows.

“The risk here of something going from one or two sporadic cases to becoming something of international concern, it’s not insignificant,” CDC Principal Deputy Director Nirav Shah said at a Council on Foreign Relations event Wednesday. “We’ve all seen how a virus can spread around the globe before public health has even had a chance to get its shoes on. That’s a risk and one that we have to be mindful of.”


Federal officials said agencies are working to raise “broad awareness” about current risks to humans, which remain “low” amid the outbreak among cows and birds. “But there are certain groups of people who are at greater risk of infection who should take precautions,” said Demetre Daskalakis, director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases.