In 1997, outbreaks of highly pathogenic influenza A (H5N1) among poultry coincided with 18 documented human cases of H5N1 illness. Although exposure to live poultry was associated with human illness, no cases were documented among poultry workers (PWs). To evaluate the potential for avian-to-human transmission of H5N1, a cohort study was conducted among 293 Hong Kong government workers (GWs) who participated in a poultry culling operation and among 1525 PWs. Paired serum samples collected from GWs and single serum samples collected from PWs were considered to be anti-H5 antibody positive if they were positive by both microneutralization and Western blot testing. Among GWs, 3% were seropositive, and 1 seroconversion was documented. Among PWs, approximately 10% had anti-H5 antibody. More-intensive poultry exposure, such as butchering and exposure to ill poultry, was associated with having anti-H5 antibody. These findings suggest an increased risk for avian influenza infection from occupational exposure.
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