On 14 November 2016 300,000 chickens from a poultry farm in Schleswig-Holstein had to be culled and disposed of due to an outbreak of bird flu. However, infected birds have also been found in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Baden-Württemberg and Bavaria, and also in Austria, in Switzerland, the Netherlands, Denmark, Hungary and Poland. The fear of transmission is just as infectious as the disease itself, even though the currently-raging H5N8 virus – whilst extremely aggressive – is not directly harmful to humans.  We answer the key questions about bird flu and protective equipment.

Currently the term “epidemic” is still used very cautiously. However, in view of the rapidly-growing numbers of bird flu notifications across Europe, that can quickly change. Farmers, vets, hunters, hospital staff, haulage company employees, feed manufacturers, waste disposal company employees – the list of people who might come into direct contact with infected animals is extensive. Workers in volunteer fire department members, the Bavarian Red Cross (BRK) or the German Life Saving Association (DLRG) could similarly soon – as has happened in the past – be exposed to increased risk in clean-up operations.

But some assurance can be given right away: fundamentally, the currently-raging H5N8 virus represents only a very slight health risk for humans. While it is certainly true that a bird flu illness can result in death in the extreme instance, there has been not a single case of an H5N8 infection in humans worldwide to date, according to information from the Friedrich Löffler Institute.

Personal protective equipment for dealing with bird flu viruses

Should you belong to a risk group coming into direct contact with infected animals or animal carcases, it is absolutely necessary for your own safety – and also to prevent further spread – that you equip yourself with suitable protective clothing.

The guidelines on bird flu issued by the Federal Institute for Occupational Safety and Health in 2007 remain current in that regard. These recommend:

  • Type 4, 5 or 6 full-body protective suits (disposable or disinfectable) (possibly liquid-tight Type 3)
  • A head covering which completely covers the hair
  • Liquid-tight and disinfectable rubber boots
  • Liquid-tight, tearproof, disinfectable gloves with long gauntlet ends
  • Particle-filtering breathing protection, protection class FFP3, ideally with exhalation valve
  • Goggles guarding against dust and splashes of liquids
  • Possibly chest waders and other use-specific additional equipment

In addition, the guidelines also include explanations regarding hygiene measures and on handling PPE before and after use and during breaks. The Robert Koch Institute also offers FAQs on bird flu – and the World Health Organization (WHO) pages similarly cover the bird flu issue in detail.

Should you have further questions about personal protective equipment for dealing with infected animals, please use the comment function or send an e-mail to expertenblog@uvex.de – and for uvex customers who want to know if their personal protective equipment is suitable for contact with bird flu viruses, we’ve put together a product information flyer.