Advice for Avian Flu: Prepare, but don’t panic
by Alan Reed
Jun 14, 2006 | 0 0 comments | 1 1 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The theme at the Pennyrile District Health Department’s Pandemic Flu Summit about Avian Influenza was “Be prepared, but don’t panic.”

The summit was convened on June 8, at the Pennyrile Fire Training Center in Princeton. Public Health Preparedness Planner Laura Croom, of the Pennyrile District Health Department estimated the attendance at the facility to be roughly 150.

Pennyrile District Health Department Director Raymond Giannini asked for a show of hands to show what businesses attendees represented. The majority worked in health care, but law enforcement, funeral and mortuary, schools and other fields, including private citizens were present as well.

The first lecturer at the summit was Dr. William Hacker, MD, the Commissioner of the Kentucky Department of Public Health. Pointing to three pandemic outbreaks of flu in the 20th Century, he said that another pandemic was inevitable. “It may not be this year, or even this decade, but it will come, and we should be prepared.”

The current strain of avian influenza has not been found in the Western Hemisphere, nor is it transmittable from human to human, according to Hacker. “The cases we’ve seen with humans contracting avian influenza have come from very close contact between poultry and the population. We see this in other cultures where people share their homes with chickens,” Hacker said.

According to statistics given at the conference, between 250.000 and 500,000 deaths are attributed to normal strains of influenza each year. Over 220 individuals have died from the Avian Influenza.

The risk of mutation into a more communicable form is of concern as well. Hacker described the process occurring most often in pigs. “The pig picks up a human virus, and the avian virus as well, sometimes genes are exchanged. That’s when a virus sometimes jumps species, and there is a potentially dangerous situation. We’ve been tracking the current strain of avian influenza since 1999. Some experts say that if it hasn’t jumped species by now, that it never will. Then there are some, like me, that say ‘What if it does?’ That is why we want to be ready.”

Hacker urges residents to be prepared before the first recorded case in North America, by maintaining a supply of hand sanitizer, and keeping a week’s worth of non perishable foods and water on hand, rotated and consumed twice yearly. “This is a good preparation for any disaster, not just a pandemic.”

Hacker did not recommend stockpiling anti-flu and anti-viral drugs. “I am a doctor and I do not keep (anti-flu drugs) in my house. The drugs are costly, the virus may become resistant, it expires at some point, and we may not ever need it.”

He added that normal surgical masks provided little to no protection, and that without the virus assuming a final form communicable between humans, no vaccines currently existed that would protect from a pandemic.

Hacker said that “social distancing” was avoiding contact with others in the early stages of infection could be effective, but that virii may be spread before symptoms are displayed. According to his multimedia presentation, the prudent message about social distancing was “Stay home when you are sick.”

Where Hacker admitted that as a human, he felt little to fear from the current avian virus, he added that if he were a bird, he would be “scared to death.”

Dr. Sue Billings, DVM, is a veterinarian of the Kentucky Department of Agriculture. She explained the risk to flocks in a state where poultry is the second largest agricultural industry.

“The transmission seems to be occurring along migratory routes for waterfowl. The virus is carried by waterfowl and picked up by poultry. The Alaska Flyway skirts Asia and North America. We think that is the route it will enter North America. Right now, it is not in North America at all,” Billings said.

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