Staying Vigilant with IP&C Protocols in the Post-COVID Era: Lessons from America’s Bird Flu Outbreak

As the world gradually recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic, there’s a compelling need to remain vigilant in our infection prevention and control (IP&C) practices. Research from The Times found that the recent outbreak of H5N1 bird flu in Ionia County, Michigan, has underscored this necessity. Despite its serene farmlands and peaceful pace of life, this region has become the epicentre of a new health crisis, with avian flu not only affecting birds but also cattle and humans. The H5N1 virus has long been recognised as a dangerous pathogen with the potential to cause a pandemic. This alarming development highlights the critical importance of maintaining robust IP&C protocols to prevent future pandemics.

The Current Outbreak: A Stark Reminder

The H5N1 bird flu virus has recently made significant inroads into both animal and human populations in the United States. In Ionia County, Michigan, avian flu infections have been reported in several cattle herds and poultry flocks, leading to lockdowns on affected farms and widespread concerns among residents. The H5N1 has decimated avian populations affecting turkeys, chickens, and wild birds. However, this outbreak is not isolated; State data has revealed the virus has now jumped to cattle and humans, reflecting a broader pattern of H5N1 spreading to new species and regions and raising the spectre of a potential health crisis.

The H5N1 bird flu virus has been widely recognised as a public health threat with the potential to cause a pandemic due to its high mortality rate in humans and its ability to infect a wide range of animals, which increases its capacity for rapid mutation. In humans, the H5N1 virus has exhibited a high fatality rate, resulting in 463 deaths out of 889 reported cases over the past 20 years, indicating that it is lethal in about half of those infected. The recent detection of bird flu in American milk supplies and its spread between cows amplify the risk of human infections, especially among farm workers who have close contact with livestock.

The Importance of Effective IP&C Protocols

The response to this outbreak in Ionia County has been swift and coordinated. Health officials have implemented testing and monitoring protocols for farm workers who might have been exposed to infected animals. These measures, reminiscent of those used during the COVID-19 pandemic, are crucial in containing the spread of the virus. However, the varying responses across different states highlight the need for a unified and robust approach to IP&C.

Lessons from COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic taught us several invaluable lessons about the importance of preparedness and robust health protocols. These lessons are directly applicable to the current bird flu outbreak:

  1. Rapid Response and Testing: Quick identification and isolation of infected individuals are essential to prevent widespread transmission. The text-based symptom monitoring system used in Ionia County for farm workers has been an example of proactive surveillance.
  2. Unified Approach: A coordinated national response is crucial. The reluctance of some states to involve federal health officials could hinder efforts to control the outbreak effectively. A unified approach, as seen with the CDC’s involvement in Michigan, can streamline efforts and ensure comprehensive testing and monitoring.
  3. Protecting Vulnerable Populations: Farm workers, many of whom are undocumented migrants, need special attention and support. Ensuring they have access to testing and healthcare without fear of repercussions is vital for accurate outbreak tracking and control.
  4. Public Awareness and Education: Educating the public about the risks and prevention measures is crucial. Transparency and clear communication can help mitigate fear and ensure compliance with health guidelines.

Moving Forward: Strengthening IP&C Protocols

The bird flu outbreak is a stark reminder that our fight against infectious diseases is far from over. Strengthening IP&C protocols should be a top priority for public health officials, policymakers, and the agricultural industry. This includes:

  • Regular Surveillance and Reporting: Implementing pooled testing and genomic surveillance for livestock can provide a clearer picture of the outbreak’s spread and help in early intervention.
  • Improved Coordination: Encouraging collaboration between state and federal health agencies can enhance the effectiveness of outbreak response measures.
  • Worker Protection: Ensuring that farm workers have access to protective equipment, testing, and healthcare without fear of losing their jobs is essential for controlling the spread of the virus.
  • Ongoing Research: Investing in research to understand the virus’s transmission dynamics and developing effective vaccines and treatments can help mitigate future risks.
  • Improved Infection Control Measures in Hospitals: Healthcare institutions must continue to adopt and enhance infection control measures to minimize the risk of transmission within hospital environments. Companies like Hygenica are leading the way in this regard. Working with healthcare institutions in the UK and overseas, Hygenica helps minimize infection rates through innovative solutions. Their Fantex® technology, which has undergone independent accredited laboratory testing, has demonstrated efficacy against influenza strains such as H5N1 and H7N1. Implementing such proven technologies can significantly enhance infection control in hospitals.


The bird flu outbreak in Ionia County serves as a crucial reminder that we cannot afford to let our guard down. The lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic should guide our response to current and future health threats. By maintaining and strengthening our IP&C protocols, we can better protect public health and prevent the next potential pandemic from taking hold. The time to act is now, ensuring that we are prepared for whatever challenges the future may bring.



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About the Author

Picture of Written by Severn Brand

Written by Severn Brand

Severn is an Infection Control Specialist at Hygenica, involved in research that analyses the links between infection control protocols, the transmission of Healthcare Associated Infections (HCAIs) and Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR). Severn has a first-class degree in Biomedical Sciences from University of Bristol.