April 11, 2024

CDC Stresses Importance of Proper PPE during Avian Flu Outbreak

A health advisory issued last week by CDC urges poultry and livestock farmers and workers, veterinary staff, responders, and others to wear appropriate personal protective equipment to reduce the risk of infection from highly pathogenic avian influenza A(H5N1) virus, which has recently been found in dairy cattle for the first time. The advisory follows the confirmed HPAI A(H5N1) infection of a person in Texas who worked with presumably infected cows in late March. This infection marks the first instance of cow-to-human spread of HPAI A(H5N1) virus and the second confirmed infection of a human. The first HPAI A(H5N1) infection in a person was reported in April 2022 in a poultry worker.

Recommended PPE for those with exposure to sick or dead animals, carcasses, feces, unpasteurized milk, or litter from animals potentially infected with HPAI A(H5N1) viruses includes a NIOSH-approved N95 filtering facepiece respirator, properly fitted unvented or indirectly vented safety goggles, disposable gloves, boots or boot covers, disposable fluid-resistant coveralls, and a disposable head or hair cover. According to CDC, any reusable PPE should be cleaned to remove visible dirt and then disinfected with an EPA-approved disinfectant that has label claims against influenza A viruses. The agency also states that PPE should be donned and doffed in separate clean areas and that people should wash their hands thoroughly after contact with infected or potentially affected animals.

CDC’s advisory urges state health departments to monitor people who are exposed to animals infected with HPAI A(H5N1) for signs and symptoms of respiratory illness after their first exposure and for 10 days after their last exposure. This includes people wearing recommended PPE.

As of today, cases of HPAI among dairy cattle have been confirmed in eight states: Idaho, Kansas, Michigan, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, South Dakota, and Texas. And on April 1, Texas officials reported that dairy farm cats showing signs of illness had also tested positive, according to an article published by the University of Minnesota’s CIDRAP. Sporadic infections have been detected in other mammals. HPAI A(H5N1) infections are widespread among wild birds, and data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture shows that three commercial poultry flocks have been affected by HPAI outbreaks during the last 30 days. The outbreak among a commercial flock in Michigan confirmed on April 3 affects more than 1.9 million birds, and more than 1.8 million birds are affected by an outbreak among a Texas commercial flock confirmed on April 2.

CDC characterizes the current risk to the public as low but cautions that people with work-related or recreational exposures to infected birds, cattle, and other animals are at higher risk of HPAI A(H5N1) infections.

“Because influenza viruses constantly change, continued surveillance and preparedness efforts are critical,” the agency states. “CDC is taking measures in case the public health risk assessment changes.”

CDC’s health advisory and additional information about highly pathogenic avian influenza can be found on the agency’s website.