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October 24, 2006 > Arm Yourself with the Facts about Avian Flu

Arm Yourself with the Facts about Avian Flu

by Washington Hospital

Readiness is the best strategy to arm our community in the face of a potential health threat such as the avian flu. In its current form, the avian flu affects birds; however, some people who have had direct contact with sick birds have been infected.

“Avian flu is not a pandemic right now,” assures Dianne C. Martin, M.D., internal medicine and infectious disease specialist at Washington Hospital. “And at this point, there is no avian flu in the United States.”

Dr. Martin will be participating in an evening panel discussion about the avian flu at Washington Hospital on Thursday, November 2. Also included on the panel are Washington Hospital physicians Albert L. Brooks, M.D., Chief of Medical Staff Affairs, Elizabeth Kurkjian, M.D., Obstetrics/Gynecology and Rebecca J. Klint, M.D., Pediatrics. The panel will discuss general information about the avian flu, how it is transmitted and what the symptoms are. The panel will be available to answer any questions relating to the avian flu.

Learning the facts about avian flu will make you feel less vulnerable about a virus that does not usually infect people. Birds have a flu season, just as humans have a flu season. Wild birds carry avian flu viruses in their intestines, although they very rarely get sick. Avian flu is very contagious among birds and if a wild bird comes in contact with domesticated birds, such as chickens, turkeys or ducks, the domesticated birds can become extremely ill or die.

Although it is true that cases of avian flu in humans have occurred and caused death, those people have had direct contact with infected birds and contaminated surfaces.

“In Southeast Asia, for example, the birds basically live in the same houses as people — they don’t have separate bird houses and people houses,” Martin explains. “The sanitation is not the same as in the United States.”

Avian flu is spread by infected birds through their saliva, nasal secretions and feces. A human may get the disease through contact with the secretions or excretions of infected chickens, turkeys or ducks.

“Avian flu does not come from eating poultry and it is not in the poultry in the United States right now,” Martin says.

If a human does contract the avian flu virus from an infected bird, the symptoms can be similar to typical human flu-like symptoms, such as sore throat, muscle aches, cough and fever. A more serious case could result in eye infections, pneumonia or severe respiratory disease.
Dr. Martin says there is no evidence of human-to-human transmission of the avian flu. Just as human influenza viruses have many strains that widely affect the population by spreading through person-to-person contact, similarly, the avian flu has many strains. Health professionals worldwide are concerned about the current strain of avian flu, H5N1, because if the virus mutates so that it can spread from human to human, then a pandemic will occur. Humans have no immunity to “bird flu” and there is currently no vaccine.

“The U.S. government is preparing for this as they did for SARS, or as they would prepare for a natural disaster,” Martin says. “The physicians throughout the world, the nation and our community are preparing for a possible pandemic.”

Dr. Martin says everyone at home can also prepare for a pandemic, which may necessitate people stay in their houses for a period of time without direct contact with other people. You should prepare for this time period similar to the way in which you prepare for an earthquake. Make sure you have three or four days’ worth of food and water for everyone in the home. Have a stockpile of batteries and a radio so you can receive news reports. Store any medicine that people in your family need on a regular basis. And devise a plan for family members to contact one another if they get separated.

Reports of avian flu outbreaks across the world can help serve as a reminder to all of us about how to prevent the spread of viruses, especially as we prepare for human flu season this winter.

1) Wash hands frequently with soap and flowing water, or rub hands with antibacterial gel. Teach children the keys to effective hand washing, including washing for 15 seconds under flowing water, which is the equivalent of singing two verses of “Happy Birthday.”

2) Do not sneeze or cough into your hands. If you do not have a tissue, sneeze or cough into your arm to prevent contaminating your hands. If you sneeze or cough into your hands, wash them immediately.

3) Do not put your fingers into your eyes, nose or mouth. This is how you contaminate yourself with your own hands, which may have picked up germs through normal daily activity.

4) If you are sick, stay home from work. If your children are sick, keep them home from school, daycare and other activities.

The panel discussion, “Avian Flu: What you Need to Know,” will be held on Thursday, November 2 from 6 to 7 p.m., in the Conrad E. Anderson, M.D. Auditorium, Rooms A, B and C at Washington West, 2500 Mowry Ave., Fremont. Call (800) 963-7070 for more information or to register.

For more information on the avian flu, go to the Centers for Disease Control Web site at or visit

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