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Bird flu detected in Houston area wastewater

HOUSTON – Authorities have confirmed reports of avian influenza (H5N1) detected in wastewater in the Houston area.

Harris County Public Health says the Houston area is one of nine Texas cities where the H5N1 virus has been detected in wastewater samples taken by the Texas Epidemic Public Health Institute (TEPHI). The samples were from March 1 and May 13.

“However, no human cases have been detected in Harris County and the source of H5N1 in wastewater is unknown. The most likely source is agriculture-related and the public risk remains low,” says Harris County Public Health. “Harris County Public Health (HCPH) continues to monitor the situation closely in collaboration with local and regional partners. HCPH manages the Houston Area Health Alert Network (HAN) and has issued two H5N1 HANs to inform clinical providers of necessary testing steps. Our Office of Epidemiology, Surveillance and Emerging Diseases (OESED) monitors syndromic surveillance to detect any potential human cases and ensure outbreak prevention.

Harris County Public Health encourages people to do the following:

  • Avoid exposure to sick or dead animals if possible, including wild birds, poultry, other domestic birds, and other wild or domestic animals (including cows).

  • If possible, avoid exposure to animal feces, bedding (litter), unpasteurized (“raw”) milk, or materials that have been touched by or near suspected or confirmed birds or other animals of the A(H5N1) virus.

  • Avoid drinking raw milk. Pasteurization kills A(H5N1) viruses and pasteurized milk is drinkable.

  • Be aware of the risk of exposure to avian influenza viruses and take appropriate precautions if you have professional contact with infected or potentially infected birds or other animals. When exposed to one or more infected or potentially infected animals, wear appropriate and recommended personal protective equipment (PPE). The CDC has recommendations for worker protection and PPE use.

The agency says it will continue to work with local and regional partners to monitor activity in Harris County and surrounding areas.

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