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CDC, WebMD give update on current bird flu outbreak: ‘Be alert, not alarmed’

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CDC, WebMD give update on current bird flu outbreak: ‘Be alert, not alarmed’

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As bird flu continues to spread among cattle in the U.S., WebMD and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) joined forces on Thursday to present a live-streamed briefing on the status of the outbreak.

The presentation, called “WebMD and CDC Presents, 2024 Bird Flu: What You Need to Know,” was moderated by Neha Pathak, M.D., chief physician editor for WebMD in Atlanta, Georgia.

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The first reports of sick dairy cows came to the USDA in early March, according to Eric Deeble, deputy assistant secretary for the Office of Congressional Relations at the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) in Washington, D.C.

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Testing revealed that the cows had contracted H5N1, more commonly known as avian influenza, or bird flu.

“Any new disease of cattle is a great concern to us,” Deeble said during the briefing. 

As bird flu continues to spread among cattle in the U.S., WebMD and the CDC issued an update on Thursday. (Getty Images)

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“The H5N1 in cattle is a relatively mild disease. They generally recover after supportive care” within two to three weeks, he said.

“Their milk volume returns to normal, and they appear healthy and continue to feed as they did before they became sick.” 

“Any new disease of cattle is a great concern to us.”

So far, the USDA has detected H5N1 in 49 dairy herds in nine states, Deeble stated. 

“To put that into perspective, that’s around 1% of dairy farms in the affected states and about 1/10th of 1% nationally,” he said. 

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On April 29, a federal order from the USDA took effect, limiting the movement of lactating dairy cattle in an effort to monitor and compile H5N1 test results.

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“Under this order, dairy farmers are required to test their cows before moving them across state lines so that we know those cows are H5N1-free and don’t pose a risk to any new herd,” Deeble said.

The order also requires that any test results that detect the presence of H5N1 are reported to USDA labs.

No current food risk, experts say

Deeble assured those tuning in on Thursday that there is no risk with consuming milk and meat.

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“I can say without reservation that our commercial milk and meat supplies are safe,” he said. “At no time were animals that are sick from H5N1 or any other animal disease permitted to enter into our food supply.”

He added, “USDA has never detected H5N1 in meat sold at retail.”

Dairy farm milk

The first reports of sick dairy cows came to the USDA in early March, health officials said. (iStock)

Tests have confirmed that cooking meat to an internal temperature of 155 or above is sufficient to eliminate all traces of the virus, Deeble noted.

For milk, the pasteurization process ensures it is safe to drink, he said.

“Our milk is cleared to a high temperature for a brief period of time, inactivating H5N1, as well as other bacteria and viruses that could make someone sick,” he said.

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Risk of transmission to humans

The overall risk to the public from bird flu is low, according to Dr. Nirav D. Shah, M.D., principal deputy director of the CDC in Atlanta.

“That is in part because it’s rare for people to get infected with bird flu viruses — but it has happened,” he said during the briefing.

“If and when it does happen, it’s most often through direct unprotected contact with infected animals — for example, not wearing gloves, face masks or eye protection.”

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In April, the CDC reported one human case of bird flu in a dairy worker in Texas, Shah said. 

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“This person’s only symptom was eye redness, or conjunctivitis,” he said. “After testing positive, this person was provided [with] an antiviral medicine and thankfully made a full recovery. There have been no new or additional human cases since this individual in Texas.”

Other symptoms to watch for include cough, fever, muscle aches and fatigue, according to Shah.

Cows and milk

Experts said there is no risk associated with drinking milk purchased commercially. (iStock)

Although the overall risk to humans is low, the CDC is taking “aggressive steps” to make sure Americans stay well and informed, Shah said. 

“Right now, one of our top areas of focus is around farm worker safety and protection — specifically making sure that workers have access to personal protective equipment … like gloves, goggles or face masks, which can help reduce their risk of exposure if they happen to be working around affected cows.”

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The CDC is also working with local health departments to ensure that sick farmers are tested for bird flu and to monitor their status.

“In addition to that, scientists in our laboratories here at CDC are looking closely at the bird flu viruses to see if there are any changes in their DNA that might tell us if these viruses are able to spread more easily to people, between people, and, importantly, whether they might be causing more serious illness,” Shah added.

Bird flu vaccine

Although the overall risk to humans is low, the CDC is taking “aggressive steps” to make sure Americans stay well and informed, a doctor said. (REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration/File Photo)

Although the risk to the public “remains low” currently, the doctor offered guidance for certain groups that may be at a higher risk.

“If you happen to work around animals, whether it’s chickens, whether it’s cattle, or whether it’s pigs, and you develop signs and symptoms that might otherwise be the flu, it’s important to make sure you call a health care provider and have a conversation with them.”

Not another COVID, experts say

The current situation with bird flu is different from the early days of COVID-19, Shah said during the briefing.

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“We are in a much different place because of over two decades of investment in planning and preparing for things like influenza,” he said.

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“As a result of that extensive planning and preparedness, there are medicines in place.”

If those medications are given early, they can reduce the severity and duration of illness, as was the case with the farmer in Texas, Shah noted.

“This is just one of many ways in which … influenza and bird flu differs from what many of us remember from four years ago,” he added.

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Vaccines and prevention

The traditional influenza vaccine doesn’t provide much protection against avian flu, the experts noted.

“Even though they are … basically the same virus, they differ just enough to where the flu shot — which we hope everyone gets — doesn’t do a great job at protecting you,” said Shah.

“It might do a little bit of work, but it’s not enough to take you to the bank.” 

Child receives vaccines

“We’re not at a spot where vaccination is recommended for anyone,” a doctor said in the briefing on Thursday. (Julian Stratenschulte/dpa)

David Boucher, PhD, director of Infectious Diseases Preparedness and Response at ASPR in Washington, D.C., spoke during the Thursday briefing about the potential need for a bird flu vaccine.

“We’re not at a spot where vaccination is recommended for anyone,” he said. 

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Through the National Influenza Vaccine Program, the ASPR works with health partners to identify influenza viruses that are “just a little bit different from the things that we’ve seen in the past,” Boucher said. 

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For a novel virus, the team develops “building blocks” of a vaccine, he noted.

“The good news here is that this system has worked the way we hoped it would, and we have an initial supply of the building blocks we would need if we needed vaccines for the [H5N1] virus,” he said.

Test tube labelled "Bird Flu"

To monitor potential spread, the CDC is on the lookout for an increase in emergency department visits or laboratory tests that might signal a “cluster of cases,” a doctor said. (REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration)

In that scenario, Boucher said, the ASPR could partner with manufacturers of seasonal influenza vaccines for “large-scale” production.

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Boucher also emphasized the importance of personal protective equipment (PPE) — such as gloves, goggles, face shields and N95 masks — for agricultural workers who may be close to infected animals.

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To monitor potential spread, the CDC is on the lookout for an increase in emergency department visits or laboratory tests that might signal a “cluster of cases,” Shah said. 

“We’re also more recently looking at wastewater to see if there are changes there,” he said.

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People can stay up to date on the latest bird flu developments from the CDC, the USDA, the FDA and other trusted sources of information, Shah added.

“We should be alert, not alarmed.”

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5 myths about schizophrenia, according to a mental health expert: ‘Huge stigma’

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5 myths about schizophrenia, according to a mental health expert: ‘Huge stigma’

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About 1% of Americans, or nearly 3.5 million people, are affected by schizophrenia — yet the mental disorder remains highly stigmatized and misunderstood, experts say.

The reason, according to Brooke Kempf, a psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner based in Indiana, is a general lack of knowledge about schizophrenia.

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“People may see somebody hallucinating and think, ‘That is schizophrenia,’ when there’s so much more to the illness,” she told Fox News Digital in an interview. 

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“It’s important for people to recognize that schizophrenia is a diagnosed and treatable medical condition.”

For World Schizophrenia Day, Kempf shared some of the most common myths and misconceptions surrounding the disorder.

Approximately 1% of Americans, or nearly 3.5 million people, are affected by schizophrenia — yet the mental disorder remains highly stigmatized and misunderstood, experts say. (iStock)

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Here’s a look at five. 

Myth No. 1: People with schizophrenia are violent

One of the greatest and “most harmful” myths is the notion that people living with schizophrenia are “scary” or “violent,” Kempf said.

“There is a long history of conflating TV or movie characters who are behaving in odd, confusing or frightening ways with a diagnosis of schizophrenia,” she said. 

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“However, we have to remember that these are made-up, dramatized situations. A diagnosis of schizophrenia doesn’t have anything to do with what we see on the screen.”

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When patients with schizophrenia experience an acute episode — perhaps having delusions or hearing voices — they might behave differently than they typically would, sometimes seeming angry or violent.

“The person is likely experiencing something within themselves that they might be arguing about or responding to, but they aren’t targeting anything toward another person,” Kempf said.

schizophrenia split

When a patient with schizophrenia is experiencing an acute episode — perhaps having delusions or hearing voices — they might behave differently than they typically would, sometimes seeming angry or violent. (iStock)

When symptoms are managed with medication, “you would probably have no idea of their diagnosis,” she noted.

“Through my long history of working in community mental health and hearing their stories, I know that people living with schizophrenia are good, caring, loving people,” Kempf said. 

“They are more likely,” she added, “to be the victim of a violent crime than the perpetrator of one.”

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Myth No. 2: People with schizophrenia have multiple personalities

There is a misconception that people with schizophrenia have multiple personalities, which could be because the Greek word “schizophrenia” means “split mind,” Kempf noted.

“However, people with schizophrenia do not have split personalities,” she said. 

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“They might have different behavioral characteristics when they’re ill and experiencing an episode, but it’s not because they have a split personality.”

Myth No. 3: People with schizophrenia are not intelligent

This assumption is completely false, according to Kempf.

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“If the illness isn’t well managed and continues to progress, or they have repeated relapses, patients will lose gray matter in their brains, and their cognitive function may decline,” she told Fox News Digital.

“But that does not mean they’re not intelligent.”

Man talking to a doctor

One expert said she’s worked with a multitude of “very successful individuals who also happen to live with schizophrenia.” (iStock)

Some patients may experience cognitive decline in the early stages of the disease — referred to as the “prodromal phase,” Kempf said — but early diagnosis and intervention can help prevent that.

Kempf said she has worked with a multitude of “very successful individuals who also happen to live with schizophrenia.”

“People with schizophrenia do not have split personalities.”

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In many cases, she noted, people can no longer see the “highly intelligent individual” behind the disease.

“As long as individuals with schizophrenia get the proper treatment — ideally with a long-acting injectable (LAI) medication — they can keep their symptoms controlled and function very well,” Kempf said. 

Myth No. 4: Symptoms of schizophrenia only involve hallucinations and delusions

Schizophrenia consists of what is clinically termed “positive” and “negative” symptoms, Kempf noted.

“Delusions and hallucinations, as well as changes in behavior and thoughts, are considered positive symptoms,” she said. 

schizophrenia symptoms

“Delusions and hallucinations, as well as changes in behavior and thoughts, are considered positive symptoms” of schizophrenia, the expert said.  (iStock)

Patients experiencing these symptoms may hear voices or have extra thoughts, delusions or fixed false beliefs, the expert explained. 

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“Hallucinations are not just hearing voices,” Kempf said. “They can occur in multiple ways based on our senses — seeing, hearing, smelling or feeling things.”

Negative symptoms are when people lose interest in the world around them, withdraw or don’t take an interest in everyday social interactions, according to Kempf. 

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“Patients with schizophrenia may get labeled as ‘lazy,’ or they don’t seem as put together,” she said. “But it’s not about laziness. The person’s brain doesn’t connect these things as being important.”

People with schizophrenia may also experience what are referred to as “psychomotor” symptoms, Kempf said — they might seem abnormally slow, and their speech and thought processes can be somewhat delayed or disorganized.

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“Unfortunately, if these negative symptoms continue and there isn’t treatment, they can impact cognitive functioning.”

Myth No. 5: People with schizophrenia require long-term or lifelong hospitalization

Hospitalization for a person experiencing acute schizophrenia symptoms is usually very short, according to Kempf. 

“For someone having an episode of schizophrenia, the average length of stay may be about five days.”

“In an inpatient setting, for someone having an episode of schizophrenia, the average length of stay may be about five days,” she said.

“If a patient doesn’t respond to medication and can’t function safely on their own, they might have to go to a longer-term, higher-level setting.”

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Today, health care providers aim to give people with schizophrenia community-based services so that they’re able to function on their own, Kempf noted.

This might mean supporting them with employment services and housing opportunities to ensure that they have an affordable and safe place to live. 

“Some patients continue to live with their family members; some might live in a group home,” Kempf said.

“People living with this disease deserve to be treated like human beings and with the same care we would provide someone diagnosed with a physical illness.”

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From a medical perspective, schizophrenia has different levels of severity, the expert noted. 

“But, again, if managed well, with early intervention, an individual can remain high-functioning and live independently,” she said. 

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“Our goal is the least structured environment possible, enabling the person to live a normal life where they can work, grocery shop and drive on a day-to-day basis.” 

Ultimately, Kempf said, schizophrenia should be viewed as a disease, not a choice. 

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Female doctor with male patient

“While schizophrenia is a mental health diagnosis, it should be thought of no differently than a physical health diagnosis of diabetes, heart disease or kidney disease,” an expert said. (iStock)

“While schizophrenia is a mental health diagnosis, it should be thought of no differently than a physical health diagnosis of diabetes, heart disease or kidney disease,” she said.

“It just impacts a different organ: the brain.”

Other brain disorders, such as epilepsy, tend to be more accepted by society, she said — but there is still a “huge stigma” surrounding diseases like schizophrenia, “probably because of the fear of the unknown.”

“It is treatable, and both medication and support services are available,” she told Fox News Digital. 

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“We all have a role to play in helping to dispel myths, foster understanding and reduce stigma,” she continued. 

“People living with this disease deserve to be treated like human beings and with the same care we would provide someone diagnosed with a physical illness.”

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