Better safe than sorry

by Erica Shaffer
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ATLANTA – The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said that the risk to public health from highly pathogenic strains of avian influenza remain low. However, the agency sought to notify healthcare workers about the potential for human infections in a health advisory released earlier this month.

CDC said that the HPAI H5N2 viruses identified in the United States are not known to cause disease in humans, but the appearance of these viruses in North American birds may increase the likelihood of human infection in the United States.

“Human infection with other avian influenza viruses, including a different HPAI (H5N1) virus found in Asia, Africa, and other parts of the world; HPAI (H5N6) virus; and (H7N9) virus, has been associated with severe, sometimes fatal, disease,” CDC said in its advisory notice. “Previous human infections with other avian viruses have most often occurred after unprotected direct physical contact with infected birds or surfaces contaminated by avian influenza viruses, being in close proximity to infected birds, or visiting a live poultry market.”

The agency added that infections have not occurred from eating poultry that has been properly cooked.

CDC still considers the risk to the general public from HPAI H5 viruses identified in the US to be low. However, individuals with close or prolonged unprotected contact with infected birds or contaminated environments may be at greater risk of infection.

In light of the potential for human infections the CDC issued guidance on responding to human cases of HPAI infection:

• Clinicians should consider the possibility of HPAI H5 virus infection in individuals showing signs or symptoms of respiratory illness who have relevant exposure history to infected poultry.
• State health departments should investigate potential human cases of HPAI H5 virus infection and notify CDC within 24 hours of identifying a case under investigation.

The CDC also recommends that individuals should avoid unprotected exposure to sick or dead birds, litter or other materials contaminated by H5 viruses. Also, individuals exposed to infected birds should be monitored starting after their first exposure and for 10 days after their last exposure.

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