Don’t let flu worries ruffle your feathers

Posted: Monday, August 28, 2006

Has the summer’s news about avian flu got your feathers a little ruffled?

In June, the Borough’s Office of Emergency Management hosted a community forum on pandemic flu and avian flu. Let’s look at some of the information that came out of those meetings to help sort some of the fact from frightening fiction.

First, avian flu, as you’ve probably heard, has been around as long as birds have been around.

Every once in awhile, a particularly scary strain pops up, like the current H5N1 virus. Humans are not normally susceptible to bird-borne viruses, but the threat of mutation does exist. Here are some flu facts from the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services brochure, “Flu, Bird Flu and Pandemic Flu”:

· Influenza (flu), are a group of viruses that primarily infect birds, but can also infect and cause illness in other animals, including humans. Although bird flu infection among humans is rare and usually results in mild disease, the resulting disease from the current strain of H5N1 is severe.

· Regular (seasonal) flu epidemics occur every year as flu viruses undergo small genetic changes. Each year, between 5 percent and 20 percent of the U.S. population will be affected and most people will recover within a week or two.

· Flu pandemics occur three to four times a century when a genetic change occurs and increases the infectiousness of the virus and severity of the illness. The worst pandemic of the last century was the Spanish Flu of 1918. It killed 50 million people worldwide and 500,000 people in the U.S.

Although the current H5N1 strain of bird flu has not yet efficiently or consistently transmitted itself to the human population, there are still some basic precautions you should take when handling chickens or game birds:

· Always wash your hands when handling birds (cleaning, plucking, etc.).

· Cook poultry well to kill any potential virus. The core temperature should reach a minimum of 165 degrees.

· If you find dead birds with no apparent cause of death, call (866) 527-3358 to report them.

· Keep yourself healthy: eat right, get plenty of sleep, exercise and wash your hands regularly. A healthy immune system is your best defense against disease.

· Precautions for avian or pandemic flu are the same as any other basic infectious disease precautions. Remember that a person is typically infectious for 48 hours before symptoms appear. Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth without first washing your hands. Stay home when you're sick to avoid spreading germs.

· Arm yourself with information (see the list of resources at the end of this article).

· Find out where and how you can help with your community’s preparations. For instance, the Public Health office, local Emergency Planning Committee (LEPC), fireand police departments, Borough's Office of Emergency Management and others are gearing up for a mass immunization event tentatively scheduled for early November.

Watch for more information about this event and plan to participate. Event coordinators are looking for the public to come out and get flu immunizations en masse so that agencies can test their preparedness for a large-scale event of this kind. Even if you’ve already gotten your flu shot before the exercise takes place, you’re encouraged to come out, stand in line and go through the motions to help stretch the system to capacity.

If a flu strain develops into a flu pandemic, it is estimated that a large percentage (perhaps as many as 40 percent)of the population might become infected. Fortunately, our health and emergency response agencies are preparing and you can help.

For more information, check out the following resources:, or call (888) 972-6358.

Kimberly Lorentzen is on the Kenai Peninsula Citizen Corps Council and writes emergency preparedness articles for the Kenai Peninsula Borough Office of Emergency Management at 262-4910.

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