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Avian Flu is a Real Threat That is Being Taking Seriously by the State

[ Return To Senator Roy Dyson's Newsletter ]

Posted on January 20, 2006:

Senator Dyson Attending Senate Committee meetings can be real “eye openers” some times.

One of the most frightening incidences of this occurred during a hearing that was held last week on the Avian Influenza and Pandemic in the Senate Education Health and Environmental Affairs Committee on which I sit.

Avian flu occurs mostly in birds, not normally in people and when we use the word pandemic, we refer to a world-wide outbreak that affects thousands if not millions of people. Pandemic flu occurs very rarely. There were only three outbreaks in the 20th Century. However, that doesn’t mean we don’t need to be taking this very seriously.

Pandemic flu is quite different from seasonal flu which occurs every year and is the type of flu which people are accustomed to so we have some immunity built up. Healthy adults usually are not at risk for serious complications of seasonal flu.

You are going to see a lot of this: H5N1 which is the identification symbols for this strain of avian influenza and was first recognized in December of 2003. Since that time, there have been more than 148 human cases of H5N1 with a 50 percent death rate.

Most of the exposure came from sick or dead poultry and some limited person-to-person spread. The spread has been unprecedented and rapid in Europe, Russia and East Asia with more than 160 million birds dying.

Pandemic flu is a worldwide outbreak of a new human flu virus so people have little or no immunity and healthy people may be at increased risk for serious complications.

The Avian Flu has been covered extensively on NPR, in Time, National Geographic, Nature and Business Week magazines and there is generally a news story about it just about every day.

How worried should we be about avian flu? Dr. Julie Gerberding, Director of the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta, GA says “This [avian influenza] is a very ominous situation for the globe. It is the mot important threat we are facing right now.”

Dr. Michael T. Osterholm, infectious disease expert, says, “Pandemic planning must be on the agenda of every school board, manufacturing plant, investment firm, mortuary, state legislature and food distributor in the United States.”

This is all sobering stuff, but there is good news. There is no evidence the H5N1 virus can easily spread from person-to-person. However, the bad news is that H5N1 viruses are circulating widely among poultry in Asia which is not nearly as regulated as it is in the United State and it cannot be eradicated in the near future and it does have the possibility to evolve and have the potential to result in a pandemic.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has recognized the importance of the possible pandemic and has planned by allocating $100 million for state and local preparedness. Maryland is to receive $1.8 million towards this effort.

Maryland has planned for a possible pandemic since 1999 with a Pandemic Influenza Plan. This includes several steps. The state has provided in-service training for various public school systems; collaborated with LHDs, agriculture and poultry companies to produce a poultry worker protection plan and has worked with the attorney general’s office to ensure existing statues and regulations sufficient for pandemic response.

Additionally, the state is involved in ongoing hospital surge capacity planning, has launched a new Maryland specific website for influenza at http://flu.maryland.gov and is currently planning a statewide summit on February 24, 2006 among other important steps.

You can be assured that as Dr. Osterholm warned earlier, our committee is taking this threat very seriously and will do everything in our power to make sure it does not reap havoc in our great State with appropriate legislation.

Maryland government is already looking into how it will maintain essential functions in the case of widespread abenteeism if indeed they catch this virus, how the state will cope with disruptions to the suppy chain of critical products and services, how will existing public-private disaster response systems provide basic needs such as food, medicine and utilities to person who are ill, homebound or cannot care for themselves during a pandemic and who will assist businesses in Maryld to develop a continuity of operations plan.

[ Return To Senator Roy Dyson's Newsletter ]

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