Rumors have been swirling for the last couple of days about a possible human bird flu case in Houston, Texas. But what do we actually know at the moment? So far, official health departments have said they are not aware of any H5N1 cases in Houston. Here’s a roundup of everything that has been shared so far.
The Houston & Texas Health Departments Said They Aren’t Aware of Any Human Cases
A spokesperson from the Houston Health Department has said that no human cases of avian flu have been reported. At first there wasn’t an official tweet or press release from HHD about it, but two different news sources — BNO News and CBS News — confirmed the statement.
BNO News wrote: “Houston Health Department says no bird flu cases have been reported.”
They clarified in a follow-up tweet: “There’s no press release but we spoke with the spokesman for Houston Health Department.”
Alexander Tin from CBS News reported on Twitter that he spoke to both the Houston Health Department and the Texas Department of State Health Services, both of whom said they weren’t aware of any human cases of avian flu.
He wrote: “Spokespeople for both @HoustonHealth and @TexasHHSC said yesterday they weren’t aware of any human cases under investigation for avian influenza.” (He later clarified that he meant to tag @TexasDSHS, not @TexasHHSC.)
He added that the CDC’s tracker was still reporting only one human case of H5N1 bird flu from Colorado last year.
The Houston Health Department later tweeted themselves, confirming they did not know of any cases of avian flu.
— Houston Health Dept (@HoustonHealth) February 10, 2023
They wrote that their staff had checked with local hospitals, none of whom were reporting any cases. Interestingly, their tweet did stipulate that they don’t know of any reports “as of right now.”
When I was covering COVID-19 in the early days, there was a lot of transparency about very early cases. It turned out later that there were cases circulating that hadn’t been identified, but health departments were very open about the first cases they confirmed so they could do contact tracing and try (ultimately unsuccessfully) to stop spread.
The Questions About a Houston Case Arose From a Doctor on TikTok
The questions about a possible bird flu case arose from a doctor’s reports on TikTok. Dr. Tiffany Najberg has emphasized that she is talking to official health departments, and said that the patient had improved overnight. She said on TikTok that she passed all her information on to the Texas Department of Health.
Najberg said the patient had been on a flight from Hong Kong to Houston, with a layover, and was wearing a mask. In an update on February 10 in the late morning, she said that she called the Texas State Department of Health, and said they told her the case was being actively investigated. They did not confirm a case, but said they were “investigating.” That same department, however, has also said that there are no reported cases at this time.
In a tweet, she emphasized her source about the potential case is “directly involved in the patient’s care and cannot speak publicly.”
So that is a summary of everything that’s known at this point in time. Najberg tweeted that the patient’s case was “confirmed by genetic sequencing.” However, as of Friday, February 10, the Houston Health Department and the Texas Department of State Health Services have both said they aren’t aware of any avian flu cases in any local hospitals.
WHO says H5N1 bird flu in mammals "needs to be monitored closely," risk to humans currently low but "we must prepare"
— BNO News (@BNOFeed) February 8, 2023
We will update this story if more information becomes available, since information about pandemic cases can change rapidly.
Dr. Eric Feigl-Ding discussed the rumors on Twitter.
Texas and CDC have not confirmed any new #H5N1 hospitalized case in Houston overnight. Avian flu is still a concern. Are we testing enough is always my lingering worry… let’s be vigilant and learn from early #COVID pandemic mistakes in being too passive… https://t.co/Ls3ngin1d6
— Eric Feigl-Ding (@DrEricDing) February 10, 2023
He wrote: “Texas and CDC have not confirmed any new #H5N1 hospitalized case in Houston overnight. Avian flu is still a concern. Are we testing enough is always my lingering worry… let’s be vigilant and learn from early #COVID pandemic mistakes in being too passive…”
Whatever happens, bird flu is definitely worth keeping an eye on. WHO has said that its spread in mammals should be monitored closely and while the risk to humans is currently low, we should still be prepared.