Bird flu response not on peninsula agenda

Posted: Monday, October 10, 2005

The Kenai Peninsula has an emergency management plan to deal with a number of widespread disasters, including earthquakes, wildfires and volcano eruptions, but not to respond to an outbreak of avian influenza, currently nabbing global attention.

When asked if the Kenai Peninsula Borough Office of Emergency Management has a plan to deal with a bird flu pandemic, should it reach the peninsula, Richard Campbell, general services director said, "The short answer is, 'No.'" The OEM falls under purview of the general services director.

"We would rely on information from the federal government first," Campbell said.

The Alaska Division of Public Health epidemiology section has put together a state plan in the event bird flu reaches Alaska but has no specific plan for the Kenai Peninsula.

The state's 65-page avian influenza pandemic response plan is posted on the state of Alaska Epidemiology Web site.

Delegates from 80 countries and international agencies met last week to develop a plan for fighting the outbreak of avian influenza before it causes a human pandemic, or global outbreak, of the disease.

"We're talking about H5N1 virus, a very deadly virus to some specific types of birds," said Dr. Beth Funk, acting chief of the epidemiology section.

She said so far about 100 people, primarily in Asian countries, have been infected with the virus, and of those, between 40 and 50 have died.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, H5N1 virus does not usually infect humans, but infections have occurred in Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia.

The risk comes during an outbreak of bird flu among poultry when people have contact with infected birds or surfaces that have become contaminated with excretions from infected birds, according to the CDC.

So far, the spread of bird flu from person to person has been rare, but influenza viruses have the ability to change so scientists are concerned that H5N1 could one day be able to infect humans and spread from one to another, easily beginning an influenza pandemic, according to the CDC influenza Web site.

"Our pandemic flu plan includes this virus and others," Funk said Friday.

She said two viral medicines that have been effective against avian flu are Oseltamivir or Tamiflu, which is taken orally, and Zanamivir, which is inhaled.

The customary flu shot people get every year provides no protection against avian flu.

"Tamiflu is the one everyone is trying to stockpile now," Funk said.

She said Alaska is thinking about having enough doses of the expensive medicine to treat critical public health workers and medical emergency first-responders.

Funk said one course of treatment costs between $60 and $80.

Other methods of mitigating the spread of the virus, should it start moving from one person to another, would be isolating people who are sick and quarantining people who are in contact with people who are sick, according to Funk.

She said scientists also are keeping an eye on some species of Asian migratory birds that nest in summer in Alaska.

"Up to this point, there is no evidence of the introduction of (the avian flu virus) into Alaska bird species," Funk said.

On the Kenai Peninsula, Campbell said the borough would follow the state's lead in responding to an outbreak.

"There's not a whole lot the government can do except advise people to limit their exposure," he said.

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