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What to do with bird flu

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Kris Levasseur
  • 48 Fighter Wing Public Affairs
Avian influenza or bird flu has become a hot topic recently. Locally, more than 1,000 turkeys were found dead on a Suffolk farm in February. After testing, some of the birds were found to be positive for H5N1, a strain of avian flu that has gained worldwide attention over the last few years. According to the World Health Organization, H5N1 has infected more than 270 individuals since 2003, and some experts are concerned it could possibly cause an influenza pandemic. Although cases of flu occur every year, influenza pandemics are extremely rare occurrences and result when a new flu virus causes a large outbreak that typically spreads rapidly worldwide.

"The difference between the present situation and a possible pandemic is the virus that might cause the pandemic does not exist at this time," said Lt. Col. Steven Hinten, Public Health Flight commander.

The bird flu virus that caused disease in humans over the last few years spreads primarily from infected birds. Human to human transmission of the virus has been rare.

"For H5N1 to be in a pandemic the virus would have to change, allowing it to not only infect humans, but also be easily transmitted from one person to another," said Colonel Hinten.

"Currently, this is not the case, and although many experts feel it is just a matter of time before a pandemic occurs, it is unknown if or when it will actually take place," he added.

In an effort to provide education on disease prevention methods and to help spread awareness, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have posted tips for the general population to help limit the spread of influenza.

- If you feel sick, stay home and away from other people. Flu symptoms vary, but can range from fever, cough, sore throat and muscle aches to eye infections and pneumonia.

- Stay away from people who are sick. If someone is noticeably sick, limiting contact can reduce your chances of catching the illness.

- Wash hands regularly. To prevent the spread of germs, especially after coughing or sneezing.

- When coughing or sneezing, cover your mouth or nose with a tissue. If you do not have a tissue, cough or sneeze into your upper sleeve, not your hands.

- Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth as much as possible. This will reduce the chances of exposure to germs that may get on your hands from touching doorknobs and other surfaces.

- Avoid smoking and tobacco products. Use of tobacco products can cause respiratory illnesses to be worse and increase the chance of suffering more serious symptoms.

- Get an annual flu shot. Although the current flu vaccine does not specifically protect against avian flu, it can potentially decrease the risk of complications.

- Maintain a healthy lifestyle. Regular exercise, plenty of rest, and eating healthy, helps your body to fight off infection.

- Avoid poultry and wild migratory birds in areas affected by bird flu. Also don't handle sick or dead birds.

- Practice safe food handling. Properly cook all poultry products. No cases of avian flu have been linked to eating properly cooked poultry meat or eggs.

"To prepare, for the possibility of pandemic influenza the 48th Fighter Wing developed a pandemic influenza response plan," said Colonel Hinten.

The plan contains guidelines for a reasonable and tailored response to a pandemic, based on what the actual risk is at the time of an outbreak. The plan's goal is to limit disease transmission, properly treat patients requiring medical care, and minimize death and lost man-hours. The plan also considers additional efforts, such as closing schools and other public functions to reduce contact with people who may have been exposed to the disease.

"The base has stockpiled some of the supplies needed to respond to an outbreak, established communications with local authorities and brushed up on training on avian or pandemic flu scenarios," said Colonel Hinten.

RAF Lakenheath will continue to monitor any type of disease threat to the community.

Knowledge is power in response to a disease outbreak, and it is important to learn how to minimize risk and the risk to your family members. For more specifics on the avian flu or information on influenza in general, contact or call RAF Lakenheath's Public Health Flight at 226-8777.