Friday, September 29, 2006

APHA Fact Sheet Provides Advice on Pandemic Flu

Are you concerned about pandemic flu? Wondering what to do or how to prepare? A new fact sheet from the American Public Health Association can help.

The fact sheet addresses ways you can prepare for and protect yourself against pandemic flu. It also covers signs and symptoms of pandemic flu and reviews key facts.

The next time you are meeting with friends or heading to your church, YMCA, community center or kid's school, bring copies of the fact sheet along. By sharing information and educating others, we can all be more ready.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Deadliness of 1918-1919 flu linked to immune response in victims

The pandemic flu outbreak that swept the world in 1918 to 1919 was so deadly because of the severe immune response it caused in its victims, new research shows.

Scientists report in the Oct. 5 online edition of Nature that certain genes related to immune response and infection fighting were activated in victims, leading to what researcher John Kash called an "overblown inflammatory response."

"What we think is happening is that the host's inflammatory response is being highly activated by the virus, and that response is making the virus much more damaging to the host," said Kash, research assistant professor of microbiology at the University of Washington and lead author of the study. "The host's immune system may be overreacting and killing off too many cells, and that may be a key contributor to what makes this virus more pathogenic."

The 1918 to 1919 pandemic flu outbreak, which involved an H1N1 strain of avian influenza, is estimated to have killed 50 million people globally. Unlike the seasonal flu, which typically hits children and the elderly, the pandemic flu outbreak took a heavy toll on young adults with strong immune systems, leading researchers to wonder why it caused so many deaths in that population group.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Chicken about eating poultry? Properly cooking and handling your food is the answer.

With all the talk of avian flu, are you afraid to eat chicken? Thinking of passing up omelettes or scrambled eggs because they might make you sick? The U.S. Department of Agriculture says you can put those worries aside: As long as poultry and eggs are properly handled and cooked, they're still safe to eat. We just need to take a common-sense approach to preparing food.

While the deadly type of avian flu that is a potential threat to humans has never been detected in U.S. poultry, properly cooking and handling your chicken, turkey or duck would kill the virus before it reaches your table, according to USDA.

The best way to be sure your food is safe is by using a meat thermometer to make sure your chicken is cooked all the way through. The inside of your chicken should be at a temperature of at least 165 degrees throughout to kill foodborne germs that might be present, including salmonella, E. coli and influenza.

It's never a good idea to eat raw eggs, or food with raw egg ingredients such as cookie dough or cake batter (as tempting as it may be!). Play it safe by thoroughly cooking all dishes with raw eggs.

Here are some other helpful tips from USDA:
* Wash your hands with warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds (equal to singing the "Happy Birthday" song all the way through twice) before and after handling food.
* Prevent the cross-contamination of foods by keeping raw meat, poultry, fish and their juices away from other items.
* After cutting raw meats, wash your cutting board, knife and counter tops with hot, soapy water.
* Sanitize cutting boards by using a solution of 1 teaspoon chlorine bleach in 1 quart of water.

For more tips, read the USDA's helpful brochure on avian flu or ask questions online via the USDA Web site. Bon appetit!

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Leavitt pledges U.S. support of global pandemic flu preparedness

Global efforts to prepare for and respond to a potential human influenza pandemic have "gained momentum and strength," during the past year, according to U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt.

Addressing representatives of the United Nations General Assembly in New York City Sept. 20, Leavitt detailed progress made on the International Partnership on Avian and Pandemic Influenza, which was announced by President Bush in 2005. The partnership focuses on enhancing preparedness, prevention, response and containment activities for pandemic influenza.

"Responding to a pandemic will demand the cooperation of the world community," Leavitt said. "No nation can go it alone. If a country is to protect its own people, it must work together with other nations to protect the people of the world."

The United States is playing a role in fighting pandemic flu by funding research on cell-based vaccines, developing mitigation strategies and creating rapid diagnostic testing, among other efforts, according to Leavitt. He pledged that the United States will continue to support the international partnership, highlighting the country's role in funding a specimen transport fund, which helps flu samples from affected countries travel quickly and securely. The United States has also helped reinforce antiviral stocks internationally by sending supplies of Tamiflu, an antiviral flu drug, to "a secure location in Asia," Leavitt said.

"It is our collective global resources and cooperation that will make our pandemic preparedness efforts a success and that will position us as a global community to (be) better prepared tomorrow than we are today," Leavitt said.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Take action! Tell your members of Congress that we need their help to be ready for pandemic flu

By now, you've probably heard that there is a pandemic flu plan out there from the federal government. The latest version, which came out in May, is billed as a "strategic, government-wide pandemic flu preparedness and response plan" meaning that the government has inked out (in 233 wordy pages, no less) what it is going to do if a highly infectious type of bird flu makes it to the United States.

But how good is this plan, really? It has its strong points, such as the fact that it recognizes that every person in the United States and all kinds of businesses would be affected (if a pandemic strain of bird flu sickens the nation, schools and workplaces will be closed, and people will be panicked and looking for advice). It also recognizes that we need to get ready now, long before the virus wings its way here via a migrating bird or international airplane.

One area where the federal flu plan is weak, though, is in how it expects us to get ready: The plan relies on people, families and communities to have their own flu plans in place, and assumes everyone will be able to have a closet full of canned goods, bottled water and batteries in case we have to hide out in our homes for a few weeks or months.

Unfortunately, the plan doesn't help communities and people become prepared, it just tells them to be so. Families will need to know what and how many supplies to buy. Hospitals will need more staff. Public safety and emergency services personnel in our communities will need a way to communicate during a crisis.

The reality is that if we are all going to get ready for pandemic bird flu, local and state health departments, community governments and leaders are going to need money to do it. If our communities are left to prepare on their own, using already-stretched resources, will we really be ready for bird flu, or any other infectious disease threats that come our way? Or will we be forced to cross our fingers and hope for the best?

(Think about it: If you turned on your TV news tomorrow and the overly coiffed talking news heads said that people in your city or town were sick from bird flu, would you be ready? Would you know what to do?)

In the end, it all comes down to money. It is up to us now to make sure that Congress provides enough funding so that we can prepare, and it's going to take a lot of dough. The federal plan says we will need $7.1 billion over several years to get ready for bird flu. That's a whopping figure, even to Congress, but we need to get started. To begin, APHA is urging Congress to provide at least $2.3 billion in funding for fiscal year 2007. You can help us get there.

Call, e-mail or write your senators or representatives and tell them we need this funding now to be prepared for pandemic influenza. (Enter your ZIP code and our advocacy tool will provide you with talking points as well as contact information so that you can connect to your members of Congress. CLICK HERE TO SEND A LETTER)

We need to act now, so that we can get people, families and communities involved in preparing for pandemic flu. We need to give our health workers and hospitals the tools and money they need to be ready, and we need to do it sooner, rather than later. This is your chance to make a difference.

When bird flu hits the United States (and at this point, it is not a matter of IF, but WHEN), we will all be a lot better off if we have real, well-funded community-based plans and systems in place, not just a hefty document on some desk in D.C.

Monday, September 11, 2006

School closings could negatively affect businesses

Holiday. Vacation day. Personal leave. No matter what you call it, having an occasional day off from work is a nice treat. But imagine having to take leave for several days, weeks or even months because of forced school or day care closings. If schools were closed during a flu pandemic or other outbreak of infectious disease, could you skip work and stay home to care for your kids?

While it may be a nice change of pace for you for a day or two, your employer may think otherwise. Some employers aren't flexible. They may not grant sick or vacation leave, and they may not offer the option of working from home. For many parents or guardians, an unexcused absence could lead to job or wage loss.

School closings will have an impact far beyond the school yard. Any closings, even for a relatively short period of time, will result in high rates of workplace absenteeism, causing both social and economic disruptions. Staff absences may interrupt the daily operations of a workplace and how it functions during an emergency. They may even impair the delivery of essential public services such as power, transportation and communications.

Communities and businesses need to investigate options for child care if schools must close and establish a "plan B" to minimize work place absenteeism. Telecommuting is one alternative. No matter what the circumstances, both communication and planning is key for ensuring that everyone is prepared.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Mute swan update

The U.S. Department of Agriculture confirmed Aug. 28 that two mute swans that were suspected to have contracted avian flu in August did have the disease, but were not infected with the type of H5N1 bird flu that is causing sickness and death among humans and birds in Asia.

Although the swans tested positive for an H5N1 bird flu, the type they were carrying is low-pathogenic, meaning that it is a weaker kind, and "poses no threat to human health," according to USDA. News reports have described it as "mostly harmless."

Since the Michigan swans were identified, birds in at least two other states have been found to be carrying low-pathogenic types of avian flu.

Friday, September 01, 2006

School preparedness for pandemic flu is a must

Preparing for a pandemic is like studying for a test. If you want to do well, you've got to be ready. Nowhere is this more true than in our schools, which are the center of community life. While schools work to educate our kids, they also provide social services and extracurricular programs. And since schools are so important to our communities, it is essential that they are involved in pandemic flu planning, both for their schools and with their communities.

How will schools operate if people get sick? When a flu pandemic or other infectious disease outbreak strikes, schools will need to have policies in place to accommodate sick students, teachers and staff who are absent for long periods. During the pandemic flu outbreak that swept through the United States from 1918 to 1919, schools around the country were closed to prevent spread of disease. And even in schools that were open, parents kept their kids home out of fear.

What will it mean for schools if this happens again, whether from pandemic flu or some other disease? For students, this may include posting schoolwork online, at least for those who have Internet access at home. For teachers, this may require more paid sick leave. The school year may need to be extended to make up for lost classes.

If a pandemic or outbreak is widespread in a community, and hospitals are overwhelmed, it is possible that schools will be closed and used for other purposes. Think of what happens when there are community disasters such as hurricanes or flood: Schools become much more than places for reading, writing and arithmetic. Oftentimes school cafeterias, gymnasiums and auditoriums become shelters to care for residents. Schools need to consult with their local health departments now to determine whether their buildings will be used as medical facilities, shelters or food distribution sites for residents in the event of a pandemic. Beyond infrastructure, schools could also lose some of their staff, as school nurses, counselors and other personnel are put into service to help out in the larger community. If so, who will be there to care for our schoolchildren?

Governments, school organizations and others have started thinking through these questions, and resources for schools to create plans are available online. If you are a parent, caretaker or just a community resident, it's up to you to find out how ready your schools are. If they're not, talk to your principal, school board or local elected leaders and offer to help. The time to get ready is now.