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Posted in on Mon, Jul 17, 2006

DES PLAINES, IL (July 17, 2006) – Recent surveys have found that many American Businesses are not prepared for what could be a devastating global avian flu pandemic. As such and in response to its members’ requests, the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE) Healthcare Practice Specialty (HPS) group has developed avian flu infection control tips for businesses and communities.

In the ASSE Healthbeat newsletter article titled ‘Avian Flu: Infection Control Guidelines’ written by ASSE Healthcare Practice Specialty Administrator Aruna Vadgama, RN, MPA, CPHQ, members suggest businesses keep informed, develop a plan and implement public health programs.

A virulent strain of the bird/avian flu, also known as H5N1, has spread from Asia to Europe, Vadgama notes. The virus can infect humans as well as birds and can cause serious disease and death rapidly.

From a workplace standpoint, avian flu may be more threatening to employees of poultry farms, other farm workers and animal handlers, Vadgama writes. According to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) ‘ Guidance for Protecting Workers Against Avian Flu’ it is these workers who are most likely to recognize an infected bird or animal.

The avian flu can be transmitted in many ways. The World Health Organization (WHO) notes “In an agricultural setting, animal manure containing influenza virus can contaminate dust and soil, causing infection when the contaminated dust is inhaled. Contaminated farm equipment, feed, cages, or shoes can carry the virus from farm to farm. The virus can also be carried on the bodies and feet of animals, such as rodents. The virus can survive, at cool temperatures, in contaminated manure for at least three months.”

Vadgama notes there are ways the infection can be controlled on farms such as quarantining infected farms and to destroy infected or potentially exposed flocks. However, avian influenza viruses are readily transmitted from farm to farm by mechanical means, such as by contaminated equipment, vehicles, feed, cages, shoes, and clothing.

While there is no one-size-fits-all solution, the Healthbeat article suggests that communities, workplaces and individuals should:

  • develop and implement preparedness plans as one would for other public health emergencies;
  • participate and promote state and community public health efforts and implement prevention and control actions recommended by public health officials and providers who can supply information about the signs and symptoms of a specific disease outbreak and to communicate this information with employees;
  • participate in influenza vaccination programs annually, especially if at a high risk to acquire influenza infections;
  • participate in annual health promotion programs to prevent airborne, blood borne, waterborne, food borne and contact types of diseases and infections if you are a healthcare worker, school teacher, public safety worker, prison worker and emergency responder;
  • adopt business and school practices that encourage sick employees/students to stay home;
  • anticipate how to function with a significant portion of the workforce/school population absent due to illness or caring for ill family members;
  • practice good health habits, including eating a balanced diet, exercising daily, and getting sufficient rest and take common-sense steps to stop the spread of germs — wash hands frequently with soap and hot water; wash hands before eating, drinking and before applying cosmetics and lip balm to prevent accidental ingestion of pathogens, eat only cooked meats and poultry, and, cover coughs and sneezes with tissues and stay away from others if you are sick;
  • stay informed about pandemic influenza and be prepared to respond;
  • use national and local pandemic hotlines that will be established in the event of a global influenza outbreak; and consult, the White House web site, for updates on national and international information and strategies.

The article also provides tips for those workers directly exposed to poultry.

OSHA notes that highly pathogenic avian influenza is a select agent and must be worked with under Biosafety Level (BSL) 3+ laboratory conditions. Furthermore, all employers processing biologic specimens suspected of being infected with H5N1 must ensure that their employees comply with all provisions of 29 CFR 1910.1030 for employee protection against blood borne pathogens.

Contact the following for additional information: t he U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) avian flu public hotlines: Public 888-246-2675; Spanish 888-246-2857; and for Clinicians 877-246-4625 or go to; and the World Health Organization, Physicians, employers and employees should contact their state or local health department ( to notify them of any employees that may have the symptoms of the avian flue or suspected exposure incidents. Also, the White House’s web site,, is the repository of all federal information and public guidelines along with OSHA’s ‘Guidance for Protecting Workers Against Avian Flu’ at

Founded in 1911, the Des Plaines, IL-based ASSE is the largest and oldest professional safety organization with more than 30,000 occupational safety, health and environmental practitioner members committed to protecting people, property and the environment. For a copy of the article please go to or contact or 847-699-2929.

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