NIOSH Issues Alert on Protecting Poultry Workers from Avian Flu

NIOSH has issued an alert to protect poultry workers from avian influenza (bird flu). Although human infection with avian influenza viruses is rare, workers infected with certain types of these viruses may become ill or die, NIOSH says. The alert focuses primarily on H5N1, the highly pathogenic form of the virus, and notes that as of February 2008, H5N1 has not been detected in the United States. It adds, however, that H5N1 can be spread from one location to another through migrating birds and the legal/illegal trade in poultry and other birds, as well as their products.

The alert says workers should be aware of the signs of H5N1 in poultry. These include: sudden death without clinical signs or symptoms; lack of coordination; lack of energy and appetite; soft-shelled or misshapen eggs; decreased egg production; purple discoloration of the wattles, combs, and legs; swelling of the head, eyelids, combs, wattles, and hocks; diarrhea; nasal discharge; and coughing and sneezing. The alert advises workers to report sick or dying birds immediately. Between late 2003 and January 24, 2008, 353 human cases of H5N1 were reported to the World Health Organization, the alert says, adding that 221 of the cases were fatal. No human cases have been reported within North, Central, or South America.

NIOSH released this February 2008 alert in the same month the National Chicken Council issued a press release noting that the injuries and illnesses rate among America's poultry processing workers has reached its lowest level ever and is below the rate found in food manufacturing in general. NCC represents integrated chicken producer-processors and its members account for about 95 percent of the chicken sold in the United States. The alert also appears in the same month The Charlotte Observer has published a six-part special report called "The Cruelest Cut" that shows a different, much less flattering side of the poultry business--the result of a 22-month investigation that found serious injuries going unreported and other safety violations.

To view the NIOSH alert, visit http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/docs/2008-113/pdfs/2008-113.pdf. To read The Charlotte Observer series, visit www.charlotte.com. And to obtain the Bureau of Labor Statistics data on which NCC based its report, go to http://www.bls.gov/iif/oshsum.htm.

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