MONDAY, June 18 (HealthDay News) -- Because veterinarians who work with birds are at increased risk of infection with bird flu viruses, they should be included on lists of people with priority access to pandemic flu vaccines and antiviral drugs, U.S. researchers say.
A team at the University of Iowa College of Public Health analyzed blood samples from a group of American veterinarians who worked with chickens, ducks, turkeys, geese or quail.
They found that their blood had increased levels of antibodies against the H5, H6 and H7 avian influenza viruses. These increased levels indicated that the veterinarians had previously been infected by these viruses.
These mild forms of bird flu occasionally circulate among wild and domestic birds in the United States. But experts fear that the deadly H5N1 bird flu virus that emerged in Asia may mutate into a form that's easily transmitted between humans and trigger a global pandemic.
"Veterinarians and others with frequent and close contact to infected birds may be among the first to be infected with a pandemic strain of influenza," study author Kendall Myers, a doctoral student in occupational and environmental health, said in a prepared statement.
"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 said.
The study is published in the July 1 issue of the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases.