Regular testing of Travis County wastewater found traces of Influenza H5N1, also known as Bird Flu, according to an announcement from Austin Public Health on June 6.

Current situation

To date, no local human cases have been reported in the area and the current risk to the public remains low, APH stated in a news release.

The agency emphasized that with current low influenza trends the detection of the virus in wastewater does not specifically indicate undetected human cases.

The H5N1 strain may have entered the wastewater system from infected bird or livestock excretions, the release states.

APH continuously monitors infectious diseases in a variety of ways, with wastewater surveillance being one of the regular methods employed. The wastewater testing is performed by the Texas Epidemic Public Health Institute, or TEPHI.

There have only been three cases of confirmed human H5N1 infections associated with exposure to infected cows within the United States, according to recent data from TEPHI.

Only one of the cases has been reported in Texas, according to a recent health alert issued by Texas Health and Human Services April 1.

According to TEPHI, public health officials are keeping a close watch on this strain for a few reasons:
  • This is the first time scientists have found avian influenza in so many types of mammals, which provides the virus opportunity to to mutate and possibly infect humans more easily.
  • Scientists are unsure how cows become infected.
  • Health officials expect to see more human cases of H5N1 anticipating a high probability of the virus changing or mutating that may lead to increased contagiousness.
The CDC has reported a total of 51 dairy cattle herds in nine states with confirmed cases H5N1.

What residents need to know

The recent cases in humans have all presented with mild illness, according to TEPHI. However, in the most recent case, the infected individual experienced an eye infection, as well as flu-like symptoms.

Health authorities urge individuals, especially those who work around cattle and other animals, to take the following steps to reduce infection:
  • Were personal protective equipment like masks and gloves when in close contact with infected dead birds or animals.
  • Avoid contact with wild birds or animals that appear sick and avoid contact with surfaces that may have been contaminated with their feces.
  • Wash hands for at least 20 seconds before and after touching poultry, meat and eggs.
  • Keep cooking surfaces clean.
  • Avoid consumption of raw or unpasteurized milk.
Anyone experiencing flu-like symptoms is urged to visit their healthcare provider for testing and treatment, APH said in the release.

Though the likelihood of human-to-human spread remains low, antivirals currently used to treat other flu strains have proven effective against the H5N1 strain.

Poultry, beef and eggs pose no risk as long as they are cooked to recommended temperatures.

Find more information on Influenza A H5N1 here and keep up to date with all local health news here.