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ICYMI: avian influenza alert, a non-stop digital health promoter, indoor air quality standards, and First Nations health news

This week we link readers to the latest news on the spread of H5N1, a review of primary care after-hours programs, and a must-read investigation of how the United States Government undermines children’s health through its support for baby formula companies.

There’s a warm welcome for the new Governor-General, and you can also read about priorities for the new Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner, Katie Kiss, who started in the role this week.

And meet ‘Sarah’, a digital health promoter at the World Health Organization, available 24/7 in eight languages via video or text. She can provide tips to de-stress, eat right, quit tobacco and e-cigarettes, be safer on the roads as well as give information on several other areas of health.

The quotable?

Human infection with H5N1 avian flu, likely from cattle.

Quick thoughts. Not good. Not unexpected. Not something to panic about. Not something to ignore.”


H5N1 updates

Infectious diseases experts are closely watching developments in North America, where avian influenza H5N1 has been confirmed in several dairy herds and some cats, as well as a case reported in a person from Texas, according to a 3 April report from The Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota.

The Texas Department of State Health Services has issued a health alert urging health providers to be vigilant for people with symptoms from H5N1, especially those who have had contact with potentially infected animals.

Federal health officials have said the avian flu outbreaks in dairy herds and the new infection in Texas doesn’t change its threat assessment, which is low for the public. They have also emphasised the safety of the nation’s milk supply due to safety nets including pasteurisation, while warning against drinking raw milk that can harbor pathogens.

Human Case of H5N1 Likely Linked to Cattle (1 April)

See Dr Rasmussen’s thread: https://twitter.com/angie_rasmussen/status/1775162281292390505

Veterinarian Professor Scott Weese writes that the infected individual developed conjunctivitis, so clearly the disease has been mild in this case. The person was told to isolate and is being treated with an antiviral drug. This is the second known infection of a person with this strain of H5N1 influenza in the US (the other case was a person in Colorado who got infected with H5N1 influenza while culling infected poultry in 2022; that person also only had mild disease – just a couple days of fatigue).

Is this the first instance or first diagnosis of H5N1 in a person associated with cattle contact? That’s always an interesting question. It could be that this is the first person that’s (likely) gotten H5N1 from a cow. It’s also possible that this has happened many times and we didn’t know because the cattle weren’t known to be infected, the person’s disease was mild and, because of that, there was no testing. That kind of context is important, but is often lacking with emerging issues. Read the Texas health alert (1 April)

See thread: https://twitter.com/angie_rasmussen/status/1775162281292390505

Read Helen Branswell’s article (1 April)

She writes: Up until now, cows have not been on the ever-lengthening list of animals that have been known to be susceptible to this virus. Infections of the highly pathogenic bird flu — a term that describes how it behaves in poultry — have been detected in many other mammals, though, including big cats, bears, foxes, skunks, sea lions, and seals.

Despite the alarming increase in the past few years of the virus’s geographic range and the number of species it has been seen to infect, both the World Health Organization and the CDC currently assess its risk to people as low. Read the Politico article (1 April)

It reports that the increasing prevalence of avian influenza in cows means that human surveillance in farmworkers and dairy workers should be bolstered, according to Association of Public Health Laboratories CEO Scott Becker.

“The bigger picture is that this virus is not cooling off,” said Jennifer Nuzzo, director of the Pandemic Center at the Brown University School of Public Health. “We’ve been worrying about this virus for 20 years, more than 20 years. And in the last year, it has really been remarkable in how far across the globe it has been spreading, and how many species it’s been affecting.”
Science report (1 April)

Jon Cohen reports that some evidence suggests the virus was transmitted between cows, but that remains unproven. And for now, USDA says its “initial testing has not found changes to the virus that would make it more transmissible to humans.” Still, the widespread occurrence of H5N1 in mammals has renewed worries that it may evolve to become more transmissible between people. And scientists are urgently trying to answer a host of questions, including how far the virus has spread among U.S. cows and how to prevent more herds and people from becoming infected.


Global health

ProPublica: The US Government Defended the Overseas Business Interests of Baby Formula Makers. Kids Paid the Price

“Records and interviews show that the US Government repeatedly used its muscle to advance the interests of large baby formula companies while thwarting the efforts of Thailand and other developing countries to safeguard children’s health…Over 15 months, US trade officials worked closely with formula makers to wage a diplomatic and political pressure campaign to weaken Thailand’s proposed ban on formula marketing.”UN rights expert: do not neglect prisons in pandemic plans (paywall)

Alice Edwards, a UN Special Rapporteur, has criticised the lack of consideration of people in prison in WHO’s draft pandemic accord.Read: Climate change belief systems across political groups in the United States

“Worry about climate change is identified as the central element in American climate change belief systems. Over the past decade, the organisation of belief systems among politically disengaged individuals has increased, implying that improved climate change communication is helping people develop more coherent and cohesive belief systems on the subject.”