Avian Influenza
Conjunctivitis caused by H7 avian influenza in a UK poultry worker
Apr 30, 2006 - 11:42:37 PM

The Health Protection Agency (HPA) has confirmed that a poultry worker is suffering from conjunctivitis caused by H7 avian influenza. The individual works on the Norfolk poultry farm confirmed as having an outbreak of (low pathogenic) H7N3 avian influenza.

H7N3 does not transmit easily from poultry to people, so the risk to those in contact with the infected poultry is considered low. H7N3 does not transmit readily from person to person and so the risk to anyone in contact with the infected poultry worker is also considered to be very low. In almost all cases of human H7 infection to date, the virus, in both low and high pathogenic forms, has only caused a mild disease. Therefore in this outbreak the risk to the general public is extremely limited.

The poultry worker reported his illness on 27 April. Samples were taken and sent to the regional Health Protection Agency laboratory and the HPA Centre for Infections for analyses where H7 was confirmed.

The poultry worker, who does not require hospitalisation, was given the antiviral drug oseltamivir as a precautionary measure on 27 April, as soon as the HPA was notified of the incident at the Norfolk poultry farm. Oseltamivir is the standard treatment for H7. The poultry worker, along with the others involved in the incident, is also being offered seasonal influenza vaccine. Normal seasonal flu vaccination is given to prevent the H7 virus from mixing with any human flu viruses that may be circulating.

Conjunctivitis causes red, sore, itchy eyes and the worker has no respiratory symptoms. To date, most human cases of H7 avian influenza have presented with conjunctivitis only.

The local Health Protection Agency has identified and followed up the poultry worker's household contacts and is providing guidance and advice, and preventative medication as appropriate.

As a precautionary measure the Health Protection Agency is taking nose and throat swabs and blood tests from the other poultry workers, and monitoring their health closely. As the poultry workers were involved in the H7 incident, they are already taking oseltamivir for prevention of illness.

Dr Jonathan Van Tam , a flu expert at the Health Protection Agency, said:

"It is important to remember that H7 avian flu remains largely a disease of birds. The virus does not transmit easily to humans, as evidenced by the small number of confirmed infections worldwide to date. Almost all human H7 infections documented so far have been associated with close contact with dead or dying poultry.

"The threat to human health posed by H7 avian influenza viruses remains very low despite the recent developments in Norfolk ."

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