March 19, 2020

NIOSH: Officers Report Flu-Like Symptoms Following an Operation

NIOSH recently responded to a law enforcement agency’s request for a health hazard evaluation after several officers reported symptoms consistent with influenza-like illness. The officers participated in an operation to take a subject into custody and search a residence. Cocaine and marijuana, guns, and explosive devices were found in the search, and the agency was concerned that the officers’ symptoms may have been associated with exposures during the operation.

Twelve days after the operation, hazardous materials teams collected environmental wipe samples from the residence and analyzed them for bioterrorism agents and toxins, which were not detected. According to NIOSH’s report, the most common symptoms experienced by the ill officers were fatigue, body aches, runny or stuffy nose, and headache. Four other officers reported mostly gastrointestinal symptoms. None of the reported symptoms began during the operation, and NIOSH states that the timing and types of symptoms were likely not related to illicit drugs or other substances in the residence.

NIOSH staff visited the law enforcement agency in March 2019, approximately three months after the operation, to meet with agency representatives, interview officers, and review documents. Almost one-third of officers who reported symptoms met NIOSH’s case definition for influenza-like illness, with symptoms beginning on or after the day of the operation. One of the ill officers tested positive for influenza, but the symptomatic officers most likely had more than one type of illness—other upper respiratory tract infections like the common cold, for example.

“While people with influenza are most contagious in the first 3–4 days after their illness begins, otherwise healthy adults may be able to infect others starting 1 day before symptoms develop and up to 5–7 days after becoming sick,” the report states. “This timeline is consistent with transmission of influenza-like illness over the 5-day period when case LEOs began to develop symptoms.”

NIOSH suggests several ways for the law enforcement agency to better prevent the spread of infection among officers. NIOSH’s recommendations include encouraging all employees to get an annual seasonal flu vaccine, telling employees to stay home when they are sick, and promoting hand hygiene practices.

Further details are available in NIOSH’s full report (PDF).