Welcome to our online chat with a Kansas health official about ABC's movie on a bird flu pandemic.
The chat took place on Tuesday, May 10, at 1:30 PM and is now closed, but you can read the full transcript on this page.
Moderator: Welcome to our chat today with Mindee Reece, director of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment's Center for Public Health Preparedness.
She is here today to respond to any questions our readers might have after watching Tuesday night's ABC movie, "Fatal Contact: Bird Flu in America."
I'm Dave Toplikar, online editor, and I'll be moderating today's chat.
Mindee, I watched the movie and wondered if it was going to be as bad as they indicated. What was your take on the movie?
Mindee Reece: Parts of the movie were realistic and represented events and activities that could occur. Other parts were overly dramatized and definitely presented a worst case scenario that most public health officials think is unlikely to occur. Two important messages from the movie include the need for planning at all levels and for individuals to practice good hygiene (hand washing, covering the mouth and nose when sneezing/coughing, and staying home when sick).
Moderator: I also wanted to mention that Dick Morrissey, deputy director for the KDHE Division of Health, is also here in the News Center.
Ladysilk, Lawrence: What current plans are in place to protect Kansas from pandemic flu and the bird flu?
Mindee Reece: Pandemic flu planning has been underway in Kansas since 1999. The Kansas Pandemic Flu Plan is available on the Kansas Department of Health and Environment's website at www.kdheks.gov. Local pandemic flu planning is currently underway in every Kansas county. Local health departments have developed a Bioterrorism Preparedness Plan, much of which will be relevant to development of their pandemic flu plans. The state is prepared to receive the Strategic National Stockpile, which contains pharmaceuticals and other medical items, and to distribute it statewide. Local health departments are either prepared or are developing the plan to receive the pharmaceuticals and to dispense medications through large-scale clinics.
Joe from Topeka: This movie (and its doom and gloom scenario) very much reminds me of another ABC "scare you half to death" movie event from November of 1983 called......"The Day After".
Only this bird flu movie doesn't have Jason Robards in it. Well, actually, now that I think of it....Jason Robards is dead.
But anyway, is this movie any more likely to become reality than The Day After was? Thankfully, there was no World War III. Hopefully, there won't be a bird flu-infected massive human death toll either!
Mindee Reece: We believe that pandemic flu is likely to occur. No one knows how severe its impact may be, but public health officials agree that some of the scenarios in the movie are highly unlikely. The last two pandemic that took place this century were such that many people didn't even know they had occurred. The estimate we are using in Kansas is that a flu pandemic might cause up to 2,500 deaths in our state. Nationally, this number is projected at up to 207,000 deaths.
Ken, Lawrence: Most of us know that washing our hands is one of the best ways to combat potentially harmful germs. But the media is also making out "Tamiflu" to be some sort of sure-fire prevention drug against avian flu. My question is, how can anyone know how effective Tamiflu will be when we don't even know what form a mutated avian flu strain may take?
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Mindee Reece: Tamiflu has actually been used with patients affected by the bird flu (H5N1) and there is clinical evidence to show that it has some benefit if started early enough after the onset of the illness. If the strain of flu that actually develops into a pandemic is something other than H5N1, the benefits of Tamiflu or other antiviral medications will not be known until it occurs. The expectation is that if the pandemic is a strain related to H5N1, Tamiflu will have some effect.
Prepper in Overland Park: Q: Given the possible for a serious shortage of supplies in a pandemic, should the state be advising Kansans to prepare for at least a 3 month period rather than just 2 weeks?
The federal and state preparedness information advises that people should stockpile 2 WEEKS worth of food and water. That seems an irresponsible suggestion that a 1918-type pandemic would be short-lived. Most experts believe that a serious pandemic will last 6 to 18 months with serious "waves" of infection coming several months apart. During this time, delivery of essential supplies will, by all accounts, be disrupted. Food, water, medicine, and electricity shortages will occur because the truckers, water and electrical plant operators, and pharmaceutical suppliers will be either unwilling or unable to provide necessary services. Also, with disrupted supply lines, the water treatment plants may run out of chlorine and the electric plants coal. The federal government's pandemic plan predicts that civil unrest...essentially food riots...might occur.
Unless a majority of Kansans are prepared for the "long haul" many will suffer needlessly. The store shelves are now stocked full and putting back supplies is only a matter of choice and funding. If the state made a concentrated effort to convince our citizens to stock up for 3 months we might be able to avoid much suffering.
Mindee Reece: If individuals and families have the capacity to prepare for a longer term, we certainly don't discourage that activity. We recommend that preparing for two weeks is the practical minimum that all Kansans should consider for stockpiling of water, food, and medications.
Ladysilk Lawrence: I have heard there is a difference between avian flu and pandemic flu, please explain
Mindee Reece: There is a difference between avian flu and pandemic flu. Avian flu is currently a disease affecting birds. The current H5N1 strain or another strain could develop the capacity to be passed from person to person and become the basis for a pandemic, which by definition is worldwide. The avian flu affecting birds is not yet present in the U.S. and surveillance activities are underway to detect it as soon as possible, if it occurs.
D., Perry: What is the timeline from exposure to the first symptoms? And, how rapidly from the first symptoms would the person get seriously ill?
Mindee Reece: The incubation period for influenza is approximately 48 hours (from exposure to onset of symptoms). The time from appearance of first symptoms to serious illness will vary from person to person, but can occur very quickly.
Mike, Topeka: If there is an outbreak will the government come kill my chickens? Should I hide my layers?
Mindee Reece: The practice for infected flocks would be to cull all of the birds. From a public health standpoint, we would discourage hiding of exposed chickens. KDHE is working in partnership with the Kansas Departments of Agriculture, Animal Health, and Wildlife and Parks, as well as the US Department of Agriculture, to coordinate surveillance and other actions related to H5N1 in birds.
Ninja, Lecompton: How much is being spent in Kansas and nationally on avian flu prevention and response? Is there a vaccine? How many doses are stockpiled?
Mindee Reece: Congress has allocated $3.8 billion to the overall efforts related to pandemic flu preparedness. Of that, $350 million is being directed to state and local governments for preparedness. To date, Kansas has received $1.1 million in federal pandemic flu preparedness funds, 80 percent of which is going directly to local communities. The federal government is considering appropriating approximately $3 billion in additional funds for this effort.
There likely will be no vaccine initially available that precisely matches the pandemic strain when a pandemic begins. However, the federal department of Health and Human Services has been developing and stockpiling an experimental "pre-pandemic" H5N1 vaccine that may offer some level of protection should the H5N1 virus mutate into a pandemic strain. We think that about 2 million doses of this experimental vaccine have been produced, with a goal of having a national stockpile of vaccine for 20 million people.
L, Lawrence: "Local communities will have to address the medical and nonmedical effects of the pandemic with available resources." This is from the gov. plan released last week. How will we do this?
Mindee Reece: The planning assumption is that communities will not have health and medical resources to share during a pandemic so that each community must plan to respond within its own resources. Community responses will vary and may include different approaches to providing a range of healthcare from home care through acute, institutional care. Local health departments will be leading this planning effort in partnership with other sectors of the community.
Norman, Lawrence: The government has had trouble in the recent past making enough flu vaccines available. That's just the regular flu. What's changed to make us think the government will be ready for an avian flu outbreak?
Mindee Reece: The current assumption is that there will not be an adequate stockpile of vaccines to manage a pandemic. There are efforts to develop vaccines and plans are underway to stockpile the best antivirals available. Community planning to reduce exposure and provide the best possible healthcare services to those infected are critical elements for preparedness.
Patricia- Lawrence: Would saving boiled water in clean milk jugs which have been rinsed well with boiling water be a safe way to save water in case of a pandemic?
Mindee Reece: We need to confirm the safety of reusing milk jugs in this circumstance. We will follow up on this question and post a better answer as soon as possible.
Ladysilk Lawrence: Of the stockpiled vaccine who is going to get it first? There is not enough for everyone.
Mindee Reece: The priorities for vaccination will be established as part of the community-based planning process. The current thinking is that first responders, including healthcare workers, public safety employees, and other essential individuals, would be vaccinated first to maintain essential services and infrastructure during the pandemic.
Ben, Washington DC: I have heard conflicting reports from both sides of the fence. Some say the Avian Flu could mutate and others say it is highly unlikely. It seems to me the WHO has been the most active party in promoting preparedness and has also profited the most from it, nearly 8 billion dollars in corporate donations. Is there any types of checks and balances, from independent organizations, in place to insure this money is being dedicated to R&D to stop any possible spread, mutations, etc. of the bird flu.
Mindee Reece: This question falls outside of our area of expertise and information. We don't know what checks and balances are in place.
Mike, Topeka: This surveillance you speak of...does that mean government people are already checking out my chickens?
Mindee Reece: No, but it does mean that if you maintain chickens, you will be asked to participate in the surveillance program once launched in Kansas.
Bruce, Lawrence: Is it true the 1918 pandemic started in western Kansas.
Mindee Reece: We can't confirm this, but the prevailing story is that the 1918 pandemic started in Kansas.
Moderator: That will be our last question of the day. Mindee, I'd like to thank you and Dick for making the trip over here to Lawrence to discuss this issue.
Mindee Reece: We appreciate the opportunity to participate in this discussion. Others can e-mail me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org with additional questions.