Colorado Inmate Is First Person in U.S. to Test Positive for H5 Avian Flu

The very first human case of the H5 avian flu has been recorded after exposure to poultry at a commercial farm in Colorado.

An inmate at the Delta Correctional Center tested positive for influenza A (H5), also known as the bird flu, after working with the fowl on a farm. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced that the one case does not change the human risk assessment for the general public, which is "low" at this time.

While at the farm, the inmate had direct exposure to infected poultry while part of a pre-release employment program "where participants have the opportunity to work for private employers and be paid a prevailing wage," according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

Free range chickens UK
The very first human case of the H5 avian flu has been recorded after exposure to poultry at a commercial farm in Colorado. Above, free range chickens are photographed at Sheepdrove Organic Farm, Lambourn, England, on October 17, 2005. Tim Graham/Getty Images

State officials said the man, who is younger than 40, is "largely asymptomatic, reporting only fatigue" and is currently isolating and receiving the antiviral drug Tamiflu in accordance with CDC guidance.

The man tested positive for the virus from a single nasal swab, according to state health officials. Repeat testing came back negative.

"Because the person was in close contact with infected poultry, the virus may have been present in the person's nose without causing infection," the Colorado Department of Health said in a release.

The department reports that all of the affected flock has been euthanized and disposed of under the guidance of the United State Department of Agriculture (USDA).

Health officials said human infection of the bird flu is rare, but direct exposure to the infected birds increases the risk. Members of the response team, including other inmate workers, were provided personal protective equipment while working on the farm.

"We want to reassure Coloradans that the risk to them is low," said Dr. Rachel Herlihy, state epidemiologist at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, in the release. "I am grateful for the seamless collaboration between CDC, Department of Corrections, Department of Agriculture, and CDPHE, as we continue to monitor this virus and protect all Coloradans."

The bird flu spreads very rapidly and has been observed in at least 29 different states, according to USDA. Over 35.5 million birds have been affected since January.

The CDC recommends people avoid contact with birds that appear ill or dead. People should also avoid contact with surfaces that appear to be contaminated with feces from wild or domestic birds.

People who work with sick or dead birds should wear gloves and wash their hands with soap and water afterward. If possible, people should wear respiratory protection such as a medical facemask and eye protection such as goggles, according to the CDC.

Newsweek reached out to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment for comment.