Avian Influenza

Avian influenza, (Avian Flu) commonly known as “avian flu” or “bird flu,” is caused by influenza type A viruses that normally only occur in birds. Avian flu is very contagious among birds and can make some domesticated birds, such as chickens, ducks and turkeys, very sick and kill them. These viruses usually do not infect humans, but in recent years several cases of avian flu infection in humans have been reported.

There are several subtypes of avian influenza A viruses. The subtype that has become of major concern is avian influenza A (H5N1) virus, which has caused the deaths of millions of birds and also poses a health risk to humans. The H5N1 virus has caused the deaths of millions of birds and of more than 140 people worldwide. These deaths have thus far been restricted to Asia, the Middle East and Africa. As of 2008, the H5N1 virus has not been found in the United States.

Avian Flu

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How can I become infected with avian flu?

Infection with avian flu can occur by direct contact with infected poultry and contaminated surfaces. Additional routes of exposure are thought to occur by inhalation of infected poultry particles or by ingestion of contaminated poultry.

What are the hazards associated with avian flu?

The hazards associated with avian flu are health-related. As with other types of influenza, death can occur in susceptible individuals. While all people are at risk, certain working groups will be at greater risk. They include:

• Health care workers

• First responders

• Public health employees

• Poultry workers—handling/eradicating infected birds

• Other animal handlers—handling/eradicating infected birds

• Laboratory workers

• Food handlers working with raw poultry

What can I do to protect myself?

  • Wash hands thoroughly and frequently, for 15-20 seconds, preferably with soap and water.

  • Avoid contact with possibly infected poultry.

  • Avoid consuming uncooked or undercooked poultry or poultry products.

Precautions to Prevent Exposure

Use appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) such as:

  • Disposable gloves or gloves that can be disinfected;

  • Protective clothing (long-sleeved coveralls with a waterproof apron);

  • Disposable shoe covers or those that can be disinfected;

  • Safety goggles; and

  • Wear at least the minimum level of respiratory protection, N95 or higher respirator.

Employees should remove all PPE at work to avoid taking contaminated items home.

Precautions When Working With Potentially Infected Animals

Wear appropriate, preferably disposable, personal protective equipment (PPE); or wear equipment that can be disinfected:

  • Gloves

  • Shoe covers

  • Safety goggles

  • Outer garments with a waterproof apron

  • Wear at least the minimum level of respiratory protection, N95 or higher respirator.

While wearing PPE, avoid eating, drinking and smoking.

What resources are available to assist employers?

Safety and Health Programs

An example PPE hazard assessment and respirator program are available and can be customized to fit workplace conditions. Employers are required to perform a workplace hazard analysis to determine what personal protective equipment is necessary to protect employees from continued exposure to identified hazards.

Training and Outreach Services

Presentations on personal protective equipment and respiratory protection for general industry provides general safety and health information on personal protective equipment and should be modified to address site-specific conditions and hazards.

In addition, the education, training and technical assistance bureau provides free online safety and health training and outreach services (i.e., speaker's bureau requests, safety booths) upon request. 

Lastly, the NCDOL Library offers free safety and health videos (including streaming video services) and related research assistance on consensus standards (i.e., ANSI, NFPA, NEC).

A-Z Safety and Health Topics

More related information can be found on the safety and health topics pages for personal protective equipment and respiratory protection

Consultation Services

The consultative services bureau provides free and confidential onsite consultation regarding worksite safety and health hazards.

Which standards apply?

There are no specific OSH standards for avian flu; however, the following standards can be applied. Note: Please also check the standards information and activity webpage to see if there has been any recent or upcoming regulatory activity on this topic. 

General Industry

General Duty Clause

Additionally, N.C. General Statute 95-129(1), commonly referred to as the General Duty Clause, may be applied for recognized serious hazards not covered by a specific NCDOL standard.

Other Applicable Standards

The Which OSHA Standards Apply webpage can help identify other standards that may be applicable to your worksite.

Where can I learn more?

Industry Guides

Technical Assistance

If you would like to receive interpretive guidance on this or any other OSH standard or topic, you can submit your questions using the Ask OSH web form, by e-mail to ask.osh@labor.nc.gov or by calling 919-707-7876.