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CDC Urges Health Agencies to Watch for Bird Flu in Humans

Peggy Lowe/Harvest Public Media
Workers in Tyvec protective suits shovel dead chickens out of Sunrise Farms, an enormous egg-laying facility near Harris, Iowa, in May. Part of the bio-security measures at all of the infected farms require workers to wear the suits, which have respirator

National public health officials are urging their state counterparts to be alert for avian flu infections in humans.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a health advisory“to notify public health workers and clinicians of the potential for human infection with these viruses” and to detail protocols for health professionals working in infected areas.

An outbreak of highly pathogenic avian flu has spread throughout the Midwest in recent months. As of Monday, there have been 282 detections in 20 states, according to the USDA.

No incidence of humans infected with the strain of bird flu have yet been reported and health officials have maintained throughout the outbreak that the strain poses a low risk to the public. But as the CDC says, “similar viruses have infected people in other countries and caused serious illness and death in some cases.”

The CDC asks clinicians to consider the avian flu when diagnosing respiratory illness in patients that may have been exposed to the flu in birds, and urges state health departments to notify the CDC of avian flu investigations within 24 hours.

The CDC issues “health advisories” to provide information about specific health concerns. It issues “health alerts” when it deems a situation grave enough to warrant immediate action by health officials.

In Iowa, where the outbreak is the worst, about 170 workers have been offered consultations from the state Department of Public Health, said Polly Carver-Kimm, an agency spokeswoman. No workers have been reported ill with the H5 virus, she said.

Workers in Iowa who have been monitored by local officials are asked to call in to a hotline and report if they have any flu symptoms, some workers told Harvest Public Media. If they show any problems, the Iowa Department of Public Health advises health care providers to suggest antiviral medications, Carver-Kimm said.

Harvest Public Media’s Peggy Lowe contributed to this report.