County officials work on ‘pandemic’ plans |

County officials work on ‘pandemic’ plans

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EAGLE COUNTY – We’re not all going to die. But public health officials are starting to work in earnest on plans to deal with a worldwide flu outbreak.The fear of the moment is the innocuously-named “H5N1″ strain of flu that’s making its way through flocks of wild and domestic birds in Asia, North Africa and parts of Europe. While the virus has killed only 103 people since 2003, more than half of those who have contracted the disease have died from it.While the disease hasn’t yet been transmitted between humans, the fact that the virus has jumped from birds to people, combined with the fact that viruses often mutate over time, has the full attention of health officials.”We’re seeing it at all levels, that this is becoming a public health priority,” said Eagle County Public Health Manager Jill Hunsaker. Hunsaker and a number of other local public health officials went to Denver recently for a meeting on “pandemic” flu outbreaks. That meeting focused particularly on the prospect of a human form of bird flu outbreak.To give an idea of how seriously officials are taking the prospect of a worldwide flu outbreak, the meeting was attended by U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt. The federal and state governments have also sent money to local governments to help them draw up plans for outbreaks.Whatever plans are made will include some public education similar to the state’s 2003 “Fight the Bite” campaign to help prevent human cases of West Nile virus. Ray Merry, head of the Eagle County Environmental Health Department, said the campaign was successful.”After 2003 when Denver got hit with (West Nile), and in 2004 when Mesa County got hit, people realized you don’t want to get bitten,” Merry said. “That’s when the use of repellent was widely accepted.”But a massive flu outbreak would be different.

“We might have to quarantine people,” Hunsaker said. The role of public health officials, she said, is not only how government should respond to outbreaks, but how people should prepare themselves.Government response could be mass vaccinations. In Eagle County, a training exercise last fall gave flu shots to more than 700 people in less than two hours. And government, in the form of ambulance and fire districts, would probably have to transport people from the Vail Valley to city hospitals. Beyond that, though, people need to learn how to protect themselves.As a school nurse, Patti Kelly Brown knows a little bit about trying to slow down the spread of germs. She recommends some common sense steps like hand-washing and staying home from work or school to help slow down outbreaks.”But I don’t obsess about those things,” like bird flu, Brown said. “There’s no way you can control them.”================What’s a pandemic?Essentially, it’s an epidemic spread over a large area, like a continent, or the world.=================

It couldn’t hurtSchool nurse Patti Kelly Brown is used to dealing with rampaging bugs. Here are some things people can do to help ward off illnesses:• Frequent hand washing.• Covering sneezes and coughs. Preschoolers are now taught to cough or sneeze into their elbows, not their hands.• Stay home if you or your kid is running a fever.• Don’t be shy about seeing a doctor if a bug’s been hanging on.• Hit desks, phones, and computer keyboards with disinfectant regularly.===============

By the way…Since 2003, bird flu has killed 103 people in Asia and Turkey.There are no recorded cases of bird flu being passed from one human to another.===================Staff Writer Scott N. Miller can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 14624, or Daily, Vail Colorado

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