Homer:County Prepares for Possibility of an Influenza Pandemic | Guest Commentary
by David Homer, San Miguel County Public Health Officer
Jul 11, 2007 | 771 views | 0 0 comments | 7 7 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Since 1997, more than 200 people in 10 counties primarily in Asia have been infected with a new bird flu virus. This new virus has been quite dangerous, and half of the infected people have died. If this new flu virus changes or mutates and becomes easily spread from person to person, the result could be a worldwide pandemic with many deaths.

An influenza virus strain that infects birds is called avian influenza or bird flu. These flu viruses occur naturally among wild birds. Usually avian flu viruses only infect birds. When an outbreak occurs, it can have a very serious impact on poultry flocks. An ongoing outbreak of avian flu in several Southeast Asia countries has resulted in the killing of millions of chickens and other domestic birds to control the spread of avian flu.

The San Miguel County Public Health Task Force was brought about at the request of the Commissioners as a means to better prepare for pandemic flu and other public health concerns. A countywide Influenza Pandemic plan is being developed which includes working partnerships with all emergency responders and stakeholders in San Miguel County.  Task Force members include representatives from Telluride Medical Center, Uncompahgre Medical Clinic, emergency medical services, fire, law enforcement, emergency management and the coroner.

Several issues are being addressed during this planning process such as: How to handle large numbers of patients ill with a contagious disease? How to distribute medicines or vaccines to more than 7,300 residents of San Miguel County? What is the most effective way to provide education and information to the public? Should sick residents be quarantined? What is the best way to quickly identify an increased number of people ill with the flu?

Our county wide Public Health Task Force is working to address all of these questions in the Influenza Pandemic plan. The mass vaccination clinics held in the past few years have helped San Miguel County Nursing improve their efficiency in delivering flu vaccine to hundreds of residents. Early detection of influenza illness will be essential to preventing spread of the disease. Telluride Medical Center, Uncompahgre Medical Clinic and San Miguel County Nursing are working together to implement new programs to quickly identify spikes in illnesses. Planning for Pandemic Influenza prepares us to respond to emergencies of all types.

The best thing the public can do is educate itself and their families, prepare emergency supplies and a plan and ask what plans are being made in their workplace and schools.  Recently, a survey was created to gauge the level of emergency preparedness in the county. To participate in the brief survey, visit sanmiguelsheriff.com. To help prepare you and your family for Pandemic Flu or other public health emergencies, visit the Emergency Management page on the sanmiguelsheriff.com Web site and these useful links:

•    Pandemicflu.gov

•    Readycolorado.com

•    Preparecolorado.org

How is Pandemic Influenza different from the regular flu?

Influenza viruses change a little from one year to the next.  This is why new flu vaccine is produced each year. A pandemic occurs when a totally new virus appears. Because no one has ever been exposed to the new virus, no one is protected from infection. Infection with the new virus spreads around the world and many people become sick and die. This is called a “pandemic.”

What is bird flu?

Bird flu is caused by influenza A viruses, that occur naturally among birds.  Wild birds worldwide carry the viruses in their intestines but usually do not get sick from them. But bird flu spreads easily among birds and can kill domestic birds, such as chickens, ducks and turkeys.

Can bird flu spread to humans?

Infected birds shed flu virus in their saliva and feces. Almost all cases of bird flu in humans have resulted from direct contact with infected poultry or surfaces contaminated with their droppings. Spread of bird flu virus from one ill person to another has been reported very rarely in some Asian countries.

What is the connection between bird flu and pandemic influenza?

Since 1997, more than 200 people in 10 counties primarily in Asia have been infected with a new bird flu virus. This new virus has been quite dangerous, and half of the infected people have died. If this new flu virus changes or mutates and becomes easily spread from person to person, the result could be a worldwide pandemic with many deaths.

Will the seasonal flu vaccine I get every fall protect me from the bird flu?

No. There is no current human vaccine available for the bird flu but researchers are testing one.

Should I still get a regular flu shot this year?

Definitely yes. Regular flu is a serious illness and results in 200,000 hospitalizations and 36,000 deaths in the U.S. each year. There is some speculation that antibodies for seasonal influenza may provide some protection but how much is not known at this time.

Is it safe to eat chicken, eggs and my Thanksgiving turkey?

Yes. Normal temperatures used for cooking kill the virus. Bird flu virus is not spread by fully cooked poultry or eggs.

Over the next several weeks San Miguel County Nursing, Emergency Management and Public Health Officer David Homer will be issuing joint press releases for an eight week series on Pandemic Flu. Topics include: Avian vs. Seasonal vs. Pandemic Flu, History of Pandemics, Flu Protection and Prevention, Public protection Measures and Community and Business Continuity Emergency Preparedness.

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