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CDC Recommends PPE for Farm Workers to Combat Bird Flu

May 8, 2024

Although the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)’s assessment of the immediate risk to the U.S. public from avian influenza (bird flu) remains low, this week, the department recommended that state health officials, veterinarians, and other leadership from public health partner organizations make personal protective equipment (PPE) available to farm workers.

Specifically, the CDC asked state health departments to work with their agriculture department counterparts and partners in communities, such as farmworker organizations, that can help coordinate and facilitate PPE distributions on dairy farms, poultry farms, and in slaughterhouses.

CDC Principal Deputy Director Nirav Shah recommended that states prioritize distribution of PPE to farms with herds in which a cow was confirmed to be infected with bird flu, noting that some states have already distributed PPE to dairy farms. Jurisdictions were asked to use existing PPE stockpiles for this effort, and briefed on how to request additional PPE, if needed. CDC is also sharing information with staff at Federally Qualified Health Centers, who may care for farmworkers to help ensure that these staff are aware of the importance of PPE and the options to obtain it.

Shah emphasized the importance of states acting now to protect people with work exposures, who may be at higher risk of infection.

A report of the bird flu outbreak released last week by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) said the virus probably was circulating in U.S. dairy cows for approximately four months before being reported on March 25, according to Reuters.

The USDA officially confirmed the presence of the H5N1 bird flu virus on March 25 in dairy cows in Texas, CNN reported. Since that time, at least three dozen infected herds have been documented across nine states. 

As CMM previously reported, one person who was in contact with infected cows in Texas also tested positive for H5N1. This marks the second human case of this strain of flu ever reported in the U.S. The worker experienced painful symptoms, sought medical treatment, was given antiviral medication, and has recovered, according to CNN.

The worker’s case was published in the New England Journal of Medicine last week, and the study’s authors reported the H5N1 virus has “pandemic potential.” Two possible bird flu vaccines could be produced within weeks, if needed, NBC News reported.

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