These web pages provide information on worker protection from avian influenza (bird flu) and the linked, but separate, pandemic flu guidance.

Seasonal human influenza is a regular feature of our UK winter months and particularly affects the very young and elderly. However, there are several different types of influenza that affect people and animals. Avian flu affects birds and although it can be highly pathogenic in birds, it rarely transfers to humans. Pandemic flu, however, is different from 'ordinary' seasonal flu and occurs when a new influenza virus emerges which is markedly different from recently circulating strains and to which humans have little or no immunity. It can therefore spread rapidly and become a major global disease ie become pandemic. The most recent pandemic flu episodes occurred in 1918, 1957 and 1968. The UK Government has already identified pandemic flu as a potential concern for the UK and developed a contingency plan.

A present scientific and Government concern is that the current avian influenza virus could recombine with a seasonal human influenza virus to create a new human strain of influenza which could lead to a human flu pandemic. A human flu pandemic could however arise from a different source and happen at any time.

HSE has been working with Defra, the Department of Health (DH) and the Public Health England to develop guidance for people working with birds and also for laboratory and healthcare workers that are at risk of exposure to the avian influenza virus. In addition, HSE has worked closely with other Government Departments on contingency planning for a pandemic of human influenza.

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Updated 2022-05-13