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Fact check: Health department denies bird flu case in Houston

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Micrograph of avian influenza, also known as bird flu (Credit: CDC/F.A. Murphy)

A physician’s claim that someone who traveled to Houston from Asia had tested positive for H5N1 bird flu has been denied by the city’s health department.

The claim surfaced on late Thursday when Tiffany Najberg, a physician in Louisiana, claimed in an online video that a traveler from Hong Kong was hospitalized at a Houston hospital with H5N1.

Najberg said she was given the information by someone “directly involved in the patient’s care.”

The Houston Health Department denied the claim in response to questions from BNO News. “[We] checked with all local hospitals and none report an avian flu case,” spokesman Porfirio Villarreal said on Friday.

There are also no suspected cases, Villarreal added.

Human cases of bird flu are extremely rare but many countries are experiencing record-breaking outbreaks in poultry, leading to the culling of more than 50 million birds across Europe since October 2021 and nearly 58 million birds in the U.S. since February 2022.

The global spread of bird flu has raised concern about the possibility of a new variant which could enable human-to-human transmission. Recent cases in mammals – including in minks, foxes and sea lions – have added to those concerns.

“H5N1 has spread widely in wild birds and poultry for 25 years but the recent spillover to mammals needs to be monitored closely,” World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Wednesday.

Tedros added: “For the moment, WHO assesses the risk to humans as low. … But we cannot assume that will remain the case and we must prepare for any change in the status quo.”

Last month, a 9-year-old girl in Ecuador tested positive for H5N1 bird flu, making it the first such case in South America. She was hospitalized in critical condition but later recovered.

Earlier this week, Peru reported that at least 585 sea lions and 55,000 birds, including pelicans and penguins, are believed to have died of bird flu in recent weeks. A dolphin and a lion also died of bird flu.

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