DVMs at higher risk for avian flu, study says

Jun 01, 2007
By staff

Iowa City, Iowa - 06/01/2007 - DVMs who work with birds have significantly higher levels of antibodies fighting avian influenza strains compared to control groups, according to a University of Iowa study. The take-home message? Veterinarians are at greater risk of contracting more virulent forms of avian influenza if they hatch in the United States. "Veterinarians and others with frequent and close contact with infected birds may be among the first to be infected with a pandemic strain of influenza," says Kendall Myers, one of two researchers who conducted a study on the subject at the UI College of Public Health. "They have the potential to spread the illness to their families and communities. Because of this, we suggest that veterinarians should be considered for inclusion on priority-access lists for pandemic influenza vaccines and antivirals." Myers, a doctoral student in occupational and environmental health, and Gregory Gray, MD, UI professor of epidemiology, studied blood samples from a group of U. S. veterinarians who had worked with live chickens, ducks, turkeys, geese or quail, looking for evidence of previous avian influenza virus infection. Compared with the control group, the study showed these DVMs had significantly higher levels of antibodies in their blood against H5, H6 and H7 avian virus strains, indicating previous mild infections with these viruses. "While these infections in veterinarians were likely mild or subclinical, the story might be very different should aggressive avian influenza strains enter the United States like the H5N1 strains infecting domestic birds in Asia," Gray says, adding that "it is increasingly important to identify the best ways to protect veterinarians and other agricultural workers most at risk for zoonotic diseases." The study was slated for publication in the July 1 issue of Clinical Infectious Diseases.