Safety

Bird flu suspected in Alabama, but risk to humans remains low

Hospital Safety Insider, March 16, 2017

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Samples from a poultry farm in Alabama are being studied by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) at a national lab to identify which strain of avian flu they contain.

The birds in Alabama did not show any signs of sickness, which suggests they were not carrying the highly lethal form of the virus, USDA spokeswoman Lyndsay Cole told Reuters. But the news comes less than two weeks after an infection of the highly pathogenic variety was confirmed across the border in Tennessee, prompting South Korea to ban all imports of American poultry and other nations to restrict imports from affected areas, as Bloomberg reported.

Although farmers have culled thousands of birds in both states in an effort to keep the disease from spreading, health officials have said the risk of bird flu spreading from poultry to people, or otherwise making the food supply unsafe, remains low.

In the event of a suspected or confirmed human case of novel bird flu (i.e., a strain that has not recently been circulating among humans), the CDC recommends that medical facilities take additional infection control precautions beyond those associated with the seasonal flu. These include additional personal protective equipment and more respirator use.

The two cases in Tennessee were both identified earlier this month as H7N9: one highly pathogenic, the other low-pathogenic. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) was quick to note, however, that the strain differs from the China H7N9 virus that emerged in 2013 and infected humans in Asia. While the subtype is the same, the virus is genetically distinct.

Bird flu infections in people are rare but possible. Most cases occur following direct, unprotected contact with infected birds or contaminated surfaces, according to the CDC. Symptoms can include a fever of 100ºF or more, feeling feverish, achy muscles, fatigue, headaches, sore throat, cough, runny nose or congestion, eye redness, difficulty breathing, diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting.

The same antiviral drugs used to treat seasonal flu viruses can typically be used to treat bird flu as well.
Humans should avoid touching sick or dead poultry (or other wildlife). If contact is made, they should wash their hands with soap and water, then change clothes before making contact with any healthy poultry and birds.



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