Bird flu preparation urged

Health officials are doing their best to keep the public calm and prepared as the bird flu spreads from Asia into Europe.

BY HEATHER MOYER | BALTIMORE | October 18, 2005


Health officials are doing their best to keep the public calm and prepared as the bird flu spread from Asia into Europe.

On Tuesday, European Union officials announced a turkey on a Greek isle had tested positive for the disease - which has already spread through eight Asian countries. The same officials called the bird flu a 'global threat.'

Human cases of the disease have been confirmed, all in Asia in previous years. Yet health officials around the world are still planning for any widespread sicknesses amongst humans even though the spread of the disease to humans is rare.

"It is something that we at the (Centers for Disease Control) are very concerned about," said David Daigle, spokesperson for the CDC. "We're working hard to finalize a bird flu plan, which includes stockpiling antibiotics and more. We are worried about it even though we've not had a case yet in the U.S., nor have we seen it spread person-to-person officially."

He said while the CDC is preparing for a possible pandemic, Americans should not panic about it. "There is only the potential for human impact right now - the more immediate threat is the regular flu season, which kills 36,000 Americans every year," he explained.

Yet the CDC is still remaining vigilant in highly publicizing frequently asked questions about the bird flu so that people are educated and can prepare as much as possible. For community leaders such as pastors, Daigle said their heightened concern is completely appropriate. He advises them to handle the discussion about and preparation for the bird flu much like how he heard groups handling the SARs epidemic.

"We saw during SARs that some churches made the decision about services based on what was going on within the community," Daigle noted. "Some elected not to do the shaking of hands. For some Catholics, there was concern about sharing a wine chalice. Those are the considerations they must think about."

He advised those faith leaders who visit the sick to take care of themselves as well. "We tell the pastors the same things as health workers: protect yourself. Wash your hands, or maybe even wear gloves or a mask depending on how sick the person is."

Daigle said for those who become sick, the importance will be on staying away from public areas. Parents should keep sick children home from school, and sick adults should stay home from work and church. "Stay home or you will affect more people," he said. "If you go in you could get a lot more people sick."

To those worried about ingesting contaminated poultry, the CDC said that should not be a problem. The U.S. does not import poultry from affected countries. "Even then, if you cook it thoroughly, it's not an issue," noted Deigle. "And actually, if you don't cook your poultry or meat thoroughly, there are a whole host of other food-borne illnesses you will have to worry about."

And for anyone traveling to the affected countries, there is another set of rules as well. Deigle said the agency advises the public to stay away from poultry farms and areas where poultry is sold.

Daigle added that he wished the public would take as much interest in the regular influenza season. "The flu season is more imminent and we know it will happen," he said. "People think the flu is like the common cold, but it kills. 36,000 Americans die from the flu every year, and more than 200,000 are hospitalized."


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Related Links:

CDC Bird Flu Info

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