Wild Birds Could Bring Avian Flu to US - KCBD NewsChannel 11 Lubbock

2/20/06

Wild Birds Could Bring Avian Flu to US

The federal government is warning the public to prepare but not to panic. They say the bird flu is most likely on its way in birds--but not humans.

The government believes wild birds could bring avian flu to the US, coming in through Alaska, as early as this year. But so far, there's no reason to fear a massive human outbreak.

"If you're a bird, it's a pandemic. If you're a human being, it's not," said Secretary Mike Leavitt, Department of Health and Human Services.

The 98 people who've died in Asia all had direct contact with infected birds. Experts say the H5N1 virus doesn't easily pass from person to person. But scientists do know there are two versions of this virus...one is harmless, but the other can be deadly.

The government will test up to 100,000 wild birds this year and is offering incentives for poultry manufacturers to find the virus.

"We will assure them we will pay for the work to be done to destroy those birds. We will compensate them for the destruction of the birds," said Secretary Mike Johanns, Department of Agriculture.

Worried about bird flu getting into the food supply? Officials say that's unlikely.

"Even if it did, proper cooking kills the AI virus." said Johanns.

Even though it's not a public health problem yet, the government is urging businesses to prepare.

"They need to ask themselves the question: 'how would we continue to operate, to serve our customers and the public in general, if 40% of our workforce could not come to work for a two to four week period?'" said Leavitt.

The US is stockpiling antiviral medications and hopes to be able to produce 300 million doses of a vaccine within three to five years. The government is also working with the Department of Homeland Security to stop shipments of infected birds from entering the country.

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