Histoplasmosis is an infection caused by inhaling fungus found in bird and bat droppings. It mainly affects the lungs. Most people show no effects or only minor flu-like symptoms. Yet it can be fatal if it spreads to other parts of the body. If you work around birds or bats, you may be at risk.
The list of workers at potential risk includes:
- Construction workers (particularly bridge workers and roofers)
- Gardeners and groundskeepers
- Heating and air-conditioning maintenance workers
- Pest control workers
- Those who work in caves (geographers, researchers, explorers)
- Building maintenance workers
How to reduce the risks
If a worker or workers could be exposed to histoplasma, the employer must develop and implement an exposure control plan (ECP). This plan must identify the workers at risk of exposure and the controls that are required to protect those workers. These will be unique to each worksite and work environment. When choosing risk controls, consider the following questions. The questions are grouped according to type of control. The three applicable types of control are listed here in order of effectiveness.
This type of control involves making physical modifications to control the hazard or reduce exposure. Some questions to consider:
- Can screens and pest control be used to prevent birds and bats from accessing a building or gathering in high-traffic areas?
- Can you use deterrents (e.g., balloons, flags, or lights) to prevent birds from roosting on window sills and ledges?
- Are vacuum cleaners equipped with HEPA filters available to clean up dust contaminated with droppings?
This type of control involves changing work practices and policies. Some questions to consider:
- Do you have safe work procedures for cleaning up material that is contaminated with droppings?
- Is there an effective personal hygiene program for workers?
- Are workers changing into "street clothes" before leaving work for the day?
Personal protective equipment (PPE)
This is the least effective type of control. When used, there must always be at least one other control in place as well. Some questions to consider:
- Are workers using respirators?
- Are workers wearing protective clothing?