Colorado Governor Declares Disaster Emergency Over Bird Flu Outbreak

The move comes as Michigan confirms the H5N1 virus affected another herd in the state.
Colorado Governor Declares Disaster Emergency Over Bird Flu Outbreak
Colorado Gov. Jared Polis in Highlands Ranch, Colo., on May 8, 2019. (Michael Ciaglo/Getty Images)
Jack Phillips

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis issued an emergency disaster declaration in his state over an outbreak of highly pathogenic bird flu in northeastern Weld County as officials recently reported that 1.8 million chickens were impacted by the virus.

The governor “verbally” declared a disaster after “an avian flu outbreak in a commercial poultry facility in Weld County,” according to a statement from his office issued on July 8. Mr. Polis’s office did not name the facility that was impacted by the outbreak.

The declaration means that Colorado can use its emergency powers to “take all necessary and appropriate state actions to assist with response, recovery, and mitigation efforts.”

In an update issued on July 8, the Colorado Department of Agriculture confirmed that 1.78 million chickens were impacted by highly pathogenic avian influenza.
The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment said in a statement on July 3 that a dairy farm worker in northeastern Colorado was infected with the H5N1 bird flu and had direct exposure to cattle infected with the virus. His only symptom was conjunctivitis, colloquially known as pink eye, which was described by the agency as mild.

“He has recovered. This case is an employee at a dairy farm in northeast Colorado who had direct exposure to dairy cattle infected with avian flu. To protect patient privacy, additional details are not being provided,” the agency said last week in a statement.

It’s not clear if the infected farm worker had any connection to the infected chickens in Weld County. Officials in the state said that the bird flu risk to Colorado residents remains low, noting that the virus is spreading among animals.

The virus is “not adapted to spread from person to person,” Rachel Herlihy, state epidemiologist, said in a statement.

“Right now, the most important thing to know is that people who have regular exposure to infected animals are at increased risk of infection and should take precautions when they have contact with sick animals,” she said.

People were advised not to touch sick or dead animals. If necessary, people should wear protective gear such as eye protection, gloves, and an N95 respirator mask.

The H5N1 virus associated with the cases also impacted about two dozen commercial dairy herds in Colorado over the past month or so, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Colorado had no avian influenza cases throughout 2023, but in 2022, eight commercial poultry flocks were impacted by the virus, according to federal data.

In 2022, a human H5N1 case in Colorado was detected in someone who was exposed to infected birds, according to officials.

So far in 2024, three other dairy workers have been infected with the virus, with one case occurring in Texas in April and two in Michigan in May. Two reported conjunctivitis, while one reported having a cough and eye discomfort with a watery discharge, according to federal health officials.

Michigan Confirms More Cases

Meanwhile, on July 9, the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development confirmed that avian influenza has been detected in another dairy herd in Gratiot County, located in the center part of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula. So far, 26 herds have been affected, according to officials.

Tests conducted at the Michigan State University Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory detected the case and will send the samples to the USDA for confirmation, according to the agency.

The state agency recommended that farms not share equipment with other farms so as to mitigate the risk of spreading the virus, among other steps being taken.

In a statement issued late last month, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said that a new study confirmed that “pasteurization is effective at inactivating” the H5N1 bird flu virus that sometimes can be found in milk or other dairy products.

The FDA said that its study “found that the most commonly used pasteurization time and temperature requirements were effective at inactivating [the virus].”

“In each of the total of nine repeated experiments, the virus was completely inactivated,” the agency stated.

Jack Phillips is a breaking news reporter with 15 years experience who started as a local New York City reporter. Having joined The Epoch Times' news team in 2009, Jack was born and raised near Modesto in California's Central Valley. Follow him on X: