September 22, 2022

Recommendations Related to Avian Influenza Published by OSHA

A new fact sheet (PDF) published by OSHA provides interim recommendations for protecting employees who may be exposed to avian influenza while on the job. Workers who are at potential increased risk of exposure to avian influenza, or bird flu, include poultry workers, other animal handlers, laboratory employees who handle influenza viruses, and healthcare workers who treat patients with known or suspected avian influenza. While avian influenza viruses do not typically infect humans, OSHA notes that infrequent human infections with avian influenza have occurred. One case of avian influenza A(H5N1), a highly pathogenic avian influenza virus, was reported in the U.S. earlier this year in a person who was directly involved in the culling of poultry with presumptive H5N1 bird flu.

As of last week, CDC reported that H5N1 bird flu has been detected in 2,470 wild birds and has affected 45,136,054 commercial and backyard poultry. According to OSHA, there is currently no evidence of sustained spread of avian influenza among people, and CDC maintains that the risk to public health is low. Even so, OSHA recommends that employees at risk of exposure to bird flu avoid unprotected contact with poultry and other birds suspected or known to be infected, use proper hand hygiene practices, and get the seasonal flu vaccine. While the seasonal flu vaccine cannot protect against avian influenza, OSHA explains that it can help prevent people from becoming infected with both seasonal and avian flu at the same time.

Employees who must come into direct contact with potentially infected birds should wear personal protective equipment that includes disposable gloves, disposable protective shoe covers or boots, disposable head or hair covers; protective clothing such as long-sleeved coveralls with waterproof aprons that can be cleaned and disinfected or disposed of; unvented or indirectly vented safety goggles; and NIOSH-approved air-purifying respirators with a particulate filter rated N95 or higher, OSHA says. The agency notes that workers should don and doff PPE in a separate clean area and receive training on proper PPE and hazards associated with exposure to avian influenza.

More information about avian influenza can be found on the websites of OSHA and CDC.