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First Human Fatality From Bird Flu Reported in Mexico

June 6, 2024
A 59-year-old with no apparent contact with farm animals but underlying health conditions died April 24.

The first human fatality from avian influenza has been confirmed in Mexico, in a person who apparently had no contact with farm animals but underlying health conditions.

A 59-year-old resident of the State of Mexico may have first developed the disease on April 17, developing fever, shortness of breath, diarrhea, nausea and general malaise. A week later, he or she sought medical attention, was hospitalized at the National Institute of Respiratory Diseases in Mexico City and died the same day due to complications of his condition.

The identity and even gender were not released; throughout most of the World Health Organization (WHO) announcement, the person was referred to as “the case,” although one reference said “he.”

The patient had no history of exposure to poultry or other animals but did have multiple underlying medical conditions. The person’s relatives reported that the case had already been bedridden for three weeks, for other reasons, prior to the onset of acute symptoms.

About April 24, Mexican officials detected the first indicators of bird flu in the victim, specifically avian influenza A(H5N2), a strain that is spreading slowly in Mexico. It’s similar to but slightly different than the H5N1 that is current in the U.S. It wasn’t until May 23, after a series of studies and confirmations in by Mexico health authorities, that they involved WHO, which did further testing and confirmation.

“No further cases were reported during the epidemiological investigation,” WHO wrote. “Of the 17 contacts identified and monitored at the hospital where the case died, one reported a runny nose between 28 and 29 April. Samples taken from these hospital contacts between 27 and 29 May tested negative for influenza and SARS-CoV 2. Twelve additional contacts (seven symptomatic and five asymptomatic) were identified near the case's residence. Samples of pharyngeal exudate, nasopharyngeal swabs and serum were obtained from these individuals. On 28 May, the InDRE reported that all 12 samples from contacts near the patient's residence tested negative for SARS-CoV-2, influenza A and influenza B.”

Here in the U.S., three humans have tested positive for avian influenza. Two people in Michigan and one in Texas were farm workers in contact with dairy cows infected with the virus, and all had only mild symptoms and have or are recovering. Millions of chickens have died or been killed to stop the spread, and the disease has shown up in dairy cattle.

Inactive remnants of the virus were found in 20% of store milk samples, but FDA assures the public pasteurization kills the virus. It also showed up in a single sample of beef, from a dairy cow, but that cow already had been removed from possibly entering the food supply.

Although all official sources have emphasized the threat to humans is very low, U.S. officials and those from other countries are exploring the development of antivirals to prevent this from becoming a pandemic.

About the Author

Dave Fusaro | Editor in Chief

Dave Fusaro has served as editor in chief of Food Processing magazine since 2003. Dave has 30 years experience in food & beverage industry journalism and has won several national ASBPE writing awards for his Food Processing stories. Dave has been interviewed on CNN, quoted in national newspapers and he authored a 200-page market research report on the milk industry. Formerly an award-winning newspaper reporter who specialized in business writing, he holds a BA in journalism from Marquette University. Prior to joining Food Processing, Dave was Editor-In-Chief of Dairy Foods and was Managing Editor of Prepared Foods.

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