Although it may seem as if there's been no important emerging infectious disease story over the past few days other than MERS, avian flu remains a serious threat both here in the United States and around the world.
While many state agencies and the USDA have been very quick to point out that none of these North American HPAI H5 viruses have been known to infect humans, the CDC has remained cautious in their estimation of the risk.
Relatives of these viruses certainly have caused human illness, and since these viruses continue to evolve - it is impossible to make any 100% guarantee of how might behave in the future. Therefore, the CDC cautions:
CDC considers the risk to the general public from these newly-identified US HPAI H5 viruses to be low; however, people with close or prolonged unprotected contact with infected birds or contaminated environments may be at greater risk of infection
We've seen guidance issued by the CDC previously on antivirals and monitoring for those who may have been exposed, but today the CDC has published a detailed HAN Advisory for clinicians. The CDC’s Health Alert Network (HAN) is designed to ensure that communities, agencies, health care professionals, and the general public are able to receive timely information on important public health issues.
I've only excerpted a portion of today's advisory. Follow the link to read it in its entirety.
Bird Infections with Highly-Pathogenic Avian Influenza A (H5N2), (H5N8), and (H5N1) Viruses: Recommendations for Human Health Investigations and Response
Distributed via the CDC Health Alert Network
June 2, 2015, 13:00 ET (1:00 PM ET)
Highly-pathogenic avian influenza A H5 viruses have been identified in birds in the United States since December 2014. The purpose of this HAN Advisory is to notify public health workers and clinicians of the potential for human infection with these viruses and to describe CDC recommendations for patient investigation and testing, infection control including the use personal protective equipment, and antiviral treatment and prophylaxis.
Between December 15, 2014, and May 29, 2015, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) confirmed more than 200 findings of birds infected with highly-pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) A (H5N2), (H5N8), and (H5N1) viruses. The majority of these infections have occurred in poultry, including backyard and commercial flocks. USDA surveillance indicates that more than 40 million birds have been affected (either infected or exposed) in 20 states. These are the first reported infections with these viruses in US wild or domestic birds.
While these recently-identified HPAI H5 viruses are not known to have caused disease in humans, their appearance 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.
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. Human infection with avian influenza viruses has not occurred from eating properly cooked poultry or poultry products. For more information on the origin of the recently-identified HPAI H5 viruses in the United States, their clinical presentation in birds, and their suspected clinical presentation in humans, please see http://www.cdc.gov/flu/avianflu/hpai/hpai-background-clinical-illness.htm.
CDC considers the risk to the general public from these newly-identified US HPAI H5 viruses to be low; however, people with close or prolonged unprotected contact with infected birds or contaminated environments may be at greater risk of infection. Until more is known about these newly-identified HPAI H5 viruses, public health recommendations are largely consistent with guidance for influenza viruses associated with severe disease in humans (e.g., HPAI H5N1 viruses that have caused human infections with high mortality in other countries). Currently, CDC considers these newly-identified HPAI H5 viruses as having the potential to cause severe disease in humans and recommends the following:
Clinicians should consider the possibility of HPAI H5 virus infection in persons showing signs or symptoms of respiratory illness who have relevant exposure history. This includes persons who have had contact with potentially-infected birds (e.g., handling, slaughtering, defeathering, butchering, culling, preparation for consumption); direct contact with surfaces contaminated with feces or parts (carcasses, internal organs, etc.) of potentially-infected birds; and persons who have had prolonged exposure to potentially-infected birds in a confined space.
State health departments are encouraged to investigate potential human cases of HPAI H5 virus infection as described below and should notify CDC within 24 hours of identifying a case under investigation. Rapid detection and characterization of novel influenza A viruses in humans remain critical components of national efforts to prevent further cases, evaluate clinical illness associated with them, and assess any ability for these viruses to spread among humans.
People should avoid unprotected exposure to sick or dead birds, bird feces, litter, or materials contaminated with suspected or confirmed HPAI H5 viruses. All recommended personal protective equipment (PPE) should be worn when in direct or close contact (within about 6 feet) with sick or dead poultry, poultry feces, litter or materials contaminated with suspected or confirmed HPAI H5 viruses.
People exposed to HPAI H5-infected birds (including people wearing PPE) should be monitored for signs and symptoms consistent with influenza beginning after their first exposure and for 10 days after their last exposure. Influenza antiviral prophylaxis may be considered to prevent infection (see below). Persons who develop respiratory illness after exposure to HPAI H5-infected birds should be tested immediately for influenza by the state health department and be given influenza antiviral treatment (see below). State health departments are encouraged to investigate all possible human infections with HPAI H5 virus and should notify CDC promptly when testing for avian influenza in people.