Dairy cows

Limiting Farmworker Exposure To Bird Flu

En español

There are many different types of influenza, or flu, viruses. One strain of flu—known as bird flu, Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza, or H5N1—is specific to birds. However, bird flu is now making other animals, including mammals, sick. Bird flu has impacted commercial poultry flocks across the U.S., and dairy cows in some states have recently contracted the virus. This means that farmworkers who work with poultry or dairy cows could be exposed to bird flu.

Illustration of bird flu transmission from bird to human
Transmission of bird flu from chickens to humans. Resource from the CDC.

Can people get bird flu?

Yes, people can contract bird flu. Currently, the risk to the general public is very low. However, the risk to farmworkers is higher than the general public because farmworkers may come in contact with sick animals as part of their job. People can contract bird flu from infected animals if the virus that causes bird flu gets into a person’s eyes, nose, or mouth. To date, there have only been three human cases in the U.S. and symptoms have been mild. The individuals who contracted bird flu were working with sick animals and they recovered. 

What are the symptoms of bird flu and how is it treated?

The symptoms of bird flu in humans are similar to the regular flu. Symptoms include eye infection, sore throat, cough, sneezing, runny nose, fatigue, muscle aches, diarrhea, and fever. Though the symptoms have been mild in the three cases in the U.S., bird flu has caused more serious illness and death in other countries. Because illness can be severe, it is important to protect workers in close contact with sick animals.

If someone working on your farm has flu symptoms, that person should go to the doctor and isolate from other individuals. If a bird flu infection is confirmed, the local health department should be notified. Bird flu can be treated using regular flu medicine prescribed by a doctor. The flu vaccine does not protect against bird flu.

How do I keep farmworkers healthy on my farm?

Prevention is the best way to protect farmworkers. The CDC recommends that farmworkers coming in contact with sick animals and their environment wear full personal protective equipment (PPE). This includes goggles, N95 masks, gloves, head coverings, gowns, and shoe covers. Farmworkers should avoid contact with secretions and feces of sick and dying animals as well as contaminated surfaces. Farmworkers should wash their hands thoroughly with soap and water after working with sick animals or their environment.