How to prepare your workplace for a possible flu pandemic is the topic of a new newsletter article from the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE) Healthcare Practice Specialty group titled “Avian Flu: Infection Control Guidelines.” In short, the article suggests businesses keep informed, develop a plan and implement public health programs.

The article is a response to questions on avian flu from a number of ASSE’s 30,000 occupational safety, health and environmental practitioners. The Healthcare Practice Specialty notes that a pandemic is a global disease outbreak, and an influenza pandemic occurs when a new influenza A virus emerges for which there is little or no immunity in the human population and spreads easily from person-to-person worldwide.

“In the past, flu pandemics have led to thousands of deaths in the U.S.,” ASSE President Jack H. Dobson, Jr., CSP, said. “This information could help in controlling the spread of a possible flu outbreak.”

Recently, a virulent strain of the bird/avian flu, also known as H5N1, spread from Asia to Europe. The virus can infect humans as well as birds and can cause serious disease and death.

From a workplace standpoint, says ASSE, avian flu may be more threatening to employees of poultry farms, other farm workers and animal handlers. The avian flu can be transmitted in many ways. The World Health Organization (WHO) notes “In an agricultural setting, animal manure containing influenza virus can contaminate dust and soil, causing infection when the contaminated dust is inhaled. Contaminated farm equipment, feed, cages or shoes can carry the virus from farm to farm. The virus can also be carried on the bodies and feet of animals, such as rodents. The virus can survive, at cool temperatures, in contaminated manure for at least three months.”

Dobson notes there are ways the infection can be controlled on farms including the quarantining of infected farms and destruction of infected or potentially exposed flocks. However, avian influenza viruses are readily transmitted from farm to farm by mechanical means, such as by contaminated equipment, vehicles, feed, cages, shoes, and clothing.