Avian flu is a virus that usually infects domestic birds, particularly poultry such as chickens and turkeys. Infected birds pass on the virus in saliva, nasal secretions, and feces to other birds who can then become sick or die. The rare cases of human-to-human transmission resulted from contact with infected poultry or virus-contaminated surfaces. Widespread avian flu outbreaks have mainly occurred in Asian countries, but the Center for Disease Control and Prevention wants to educate the American public to understand the hazards of an avian flu virus exposure, recognize signs of the virus, and to take necessary protective measures to prevent an avian flu epidemic here.
At this time, those who could be exposed to avian flu include poultry growers and their workers, poultry processors; caretakers, layer barn workers, and chick movers at egg production facilities; and workers involved in disease control and eradication activities.
Like most other viruses, people get the flu virus by way of mouth, nose, eyes, and lungs, if they come in contact with infected sick or dead poultry or their droppings or if they touch contaminated litter or surfaces (e.g., egg flats). Animal manure containing the virus can contaminate dust and soil, causing infection when inhaled. Contaminated farm equipment, feed, cages, or shoes can carry the virus from farm to farm and the virus can also be carried on the bodies and feet of animals, such as rodents. Although there’s some concern that avian flu could be transmitted from uncooked birds or bird products, including eggs, there’s no evidence that anyone has gotten avian flu from eating poultry products.
At risk workers should be trained on the hazards associated with avian flu so that they can take immediate steps to protect themselves and others, quarantine infected areas, and report any suspected virus to responsible animal health authorities. Protective measures should be taken by anyone likely to have prolonged direct or indirect exposure to an avian flu virus in an enclosed setting. Workers should wear personal protective equipment including N95 or N100 respirators, gloves, aprons, hair covers, goggles, and boots or shoe covers. But, the single most important and effective way to prevent the spread of avian flu is hand washing with soap and water or waterless alcohol-based hand sanitizers for 15-20 seconds.
Symptoms of avian flu in people range from typical flu-like symptoms (e.g., fever, cough, sore throat, and muscle aches) to eye infections (conjunctivitis), pneumonia, acute respiratory distress, viral pneumonia, and other severe and life-threatening complications. Anyone who suspects they’ve been exposed to the avian flu should seek medical care.
Possible signs of avian flu infection in birds and other poultry include sudden death without any signs; lack of coordination; purple discoloration of the wattles, combs and legs; soft-shelled or misshapen eggs; lack of energy and appetite; diarrhea; swelling of the head, eyelids, comb, wattles, and hocks; nasal discharge; decreased egg production; and coughing and sneezing. In come cases, birds might be healthy-looking but still be infected with the avian flu virus.
If you’d like additional information on the avian flu visit the Fed OSHA Web site at www.osha.gov/dsg/guidance/avian-flu.html or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at www.cdc.gov/flu/avian/index.htm.
The above evaluations and/or recommendations are for general guidance only and should not be relied upon for legal compliance purposes. They are based solely on the information provided to us and relate only to those conditions specifically discussed. We do not make any warranty, expressed or implied, that your workplace is safe or healthful or that it complies with all laws, regulations or standards.