State officials urge citizens to prepare for bird flu pandemic

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN
The Kansas Department of Health and Environment urges Kansans to take steps to be prepared for pandemic influenza.

The flu strain H5N1 (Bird Flu) is making its way into more countries each week, and federal authorities expect it to arrive in the U.S. bird population soon.

H5N1, if it becomes contagious in people, could cause a pandemic (worldwide outbreak) because the human population has little or no immunity to it.

Last week, officials with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, U.S. Department of of Interior and U.S. Health and Human Services announced increased efforts to monitor for H5N1 in birds. To date, no cases of H5N1 have been found in the United States in either birds or people.

“As the H5N1 virus spreads to more countries, it’s only a matter of time before we would expect to see it in birds in the U.S.,” said Howard Rodenberg, director of KDHE Division of Health.

“With the potential for the virus to mutate into a form that spreads not just from birds to people, but rather from person to person, then a pandemic would be very likely.

“That means we should all be thinking about storing an extra supply of water, food and prescriptions because a pandemic has the potential to impact much of society as we know it.”

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has developed recommendations and checklists for individuals, families, schools, businesses, health care settings, and faith based organizations to use to prepare for pandemic influenza.

These may be found on HHS Web site, www.pandemicflu.gov, and KDHE Web site, www. kdheks.gov.

Nearly 100 people have died of H5N1 in other parts of the world and the mortality rate is about 50 percent. The individuals have primarily contracted the disease as a result of working closely with backyard, domestic poultry.

There have been no human cases of H5N1 influenza from wild bird contact and no human or animal cases in North America.

Increased monitoring of birds

Federal officials are now planning to increase monitoring for H5N1 by collecting and testing 75,000 to 100,000 live and dead wild birds in 2006, monitoring hunter check stations during hunting seasons to sample hunter-killed birds, test poultry raised for noncommercial purposes and duck flocks in wetland environments where they may commingle with wild birds, investigate significant numbers of sick or dead birds, and test bird feces and water in which the birds swim.

Special attention will be placed on testing in Alaska, followed by the Pacific Flyway, Pacific Islands, Central Flyway, Mississippi Flyway and Atlantic Flyway.

Bird testing is not being conducted in Kansas at this time.

Safety of eating poultry

“While we anticipate H5N1 in the U.S. in birds, it’s important to note that eating poultry or other birds is safe, as long as it is handled and cooked properly,” said Gail Hansen, KDHE state rpidemiologist.

“Wash your hands frequently, clean kitchen surfaces, and keep other items away from raw poultry to prevent cross-contamination. Cooking would kill the virus, but it is important to remember that there is no H5N1 in any bird in the U.S. right now.”

Preparing for a pandemic

“Recent disasters, including hurricanes, tsunamis, and earthquakes that occurred around the world in the last year, and the potential for disease outbreaks including pandemic flu remind all of us that preparation is the key to surviving,” said Rodenberg.

“By preparing for pandemic influenza, we are preparing ourselves for other types of disasters, such as ice storms, tornados, floods, disease outbreaks, and acts of terrorism.”

The guide encourages individuals and families to:

(1) Plan for pandemic influenza.

Store a supply of water and food.

Ask your doctor and insurance company if you can get an extra supply of your regular prescription drugs.

Have any nonprescription drugs and other health supplies on hand, including pain relievers, stomach remedies, cough and cold medicines, fluids with electrolytes and vitamins.

Talk with family members and loved ones about how they would be cared for if they got sick, or what will be needed to care for them in your home.

(2) Limit the spread of germs and prevent infection.

Teach your children to wash their hands frequently with soap and water. Demonstrate this by doing it yourself.

Teach children to cover coughs and sneezes, and do the same.

Teach children to stay away from others as much as possible when sick. Stay home from work or school if sick.

(3) Keep other emergency supplies on hand, such as:

alcohol-based hand sanitizer;

prescribed medical supplies (such as glucose and blood pressure monitors);

thermometer;

soap and other cleansing agents;

flashlight;

portable radio;

extra batteries;

manual can opener;

garbage bags

tissues, toilet paper, disposable diapers;

important documents, including family health information and contacts.

“Pandemic Influenza Planning: A Guide for Individuals and Families”can be downloaded from the federal govern- ment’s pandemic influenza Web site at www.pandemicflu.gov/ plan/tab3.html.

Similar checklists for schools, businesses, health care settings, and faith-based organizations are also available on this Web site.

The Kansas Pandemic Influenza Response Plan is available on the KDHE Web site at www.kdheks.gov.

People who have questions about pandemic influenza or other emergencies can call the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) hotline at 1-800-CDC-INFO (1-800-232-4636), TTY: 1-888-232-6348.

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