Archive for Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Best weapon against bird flu exists in education, state says

Fears of next virus strain prompt early monitoring of poultry

August 29, 2006

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— They're already testing water fowl and have had emergency response plans in the works for months, but state and local officials said Monday that public education will be the best weapon to fight bird flu if it ever strikes Kansas.

Those officials are waiting for the next virulent flu strain to emerge to cause widespread misery - as the Hong Kong Flu did in the late 1960s or an even worse influenza pandemic in 1918-19.

For a decade, they've worried that a new strain of bird flu will emerge in southeast Asia, mutate and move to humans.

When such a pandemic occurs, they said, public health officials will be forced to rely heavily on sick people volunteering to stay home until they get well.

Also, their goals include giving communities enough warning so that education efforts take hold.

"We are a society that is far too mobile," Howard Rodenberg, the state's health director, told reporters during a briefing on bird flu at Johnson County's extension office. "It is unlikely that isolation and quarantine will be a widespread tool."

So far, officials said, there have been no known cases of bird flu in Kansas, either among birds or humans.

But there have been dozens of human cases in southeast Asia, and 37 nations have had cases in poultry or water fowl in the past four years.

Hoping for early detection, the Department of Wildlife and Parks already has randomly tested 80 birds and plans to test another 670 or so ducks, cranes, sandpipers and pectorals this year.

And the Animal Health Department is monitoring poultry shows and markets.

The state drafted a plan a year ago spelling out how it and local agencies would respond to a pandemic.

"The main reason we're concerned about this, in terms of human health, is that there is no immunity, or very little, out there," said Allen Greiner, interim research director for the Department of Family Medicine at the Kansas University Medical Center.

The Hong Kong Flu of 1968-69 killed an estimated 500,000 people worldwide, while the 1918-19 Spanish flu pandemic may have claimed 40 million lives worldwide.

The Department of Health and Environment says a new pandemic could force 500,000 Kansans to see medical treatment, could hospitalize 5,000 and kill half that number.

The department recommends that Kansans get flu shots and develop an emergency kit including water, food and a battery powered radio so they can isolate themselves and their families should the flu strike.

Also, health officials are recommending standard flu-prevention steps, such as washing hands and covering coughs and sneezes.

In addition, Kansas State University's extension service is advising people to wash their hands and surfaces after handling raw poultry.

The Department of Wildlife and Parks is asking Kansans to report instances in which five or more water birds or migratory fowl are found dead.

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