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Keywords:

  • Zoonoses;
  • influenza;
  • human;
  • influenza in birds;
  • serology;
  • occupational exposure

Summary

The threat of an influenza pandemic is looming, with new cases of sporadic avian influenza infections in man frequently reported. Exposure to diseased poultry is a leading risk factor for these infections. In this study, we used logistic regression to investigate serological evidence of previous infection with avian influenza subtypes H4, H5, H6, H7, H8, H9, H10, and H11 among 95 adults occupationally exposed to turkeys in the US Midwest and 82 unexposed controls. Our results indicate that farmers practising backyard, organic or free-ranging turkey production methods are at an increased risk of infection with avian influenza. Among these farmers, the adjusted odds ratios (ORs) for elevated microneutralization assay titres against avian H4, H5, H6, H9, and H10 influenza strains ranged between 3.9 (95% CI 1.2–12.8) and 15.3 (95% CI 2.0–115.2) when compared to non-exposed controls. The measured ORs were adjusted for antibody titres against human influenza viruses and other exposure variables. These data suggest that sometime in their lives, the workers had been exposed to low pathogenicity avian influenza viruses. These findings support calls for inclusion of agricultural workers in priority groups in pandemic influenza preparedness efforts. These data further support increasing surveillance and other preparedness efforts to include not only confinement poultry facilities, but more importantly, also small scale farms.