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Maryland Needs to be Ready for Avian Flu

[ Return To Senator Roy Dyson's Newsletter ]

Posted on May 30, 2006:

Senator Dyson By Maryland Senator Roy Dyson

The all news radio stations in the Washington, D.C.-Metropolitan area --WTOP (103.5) now gives a daily “bird flu update.”

The May 25, 2006 edition of the USA Today reported “Bird flu appears increasingly contagious.” Both news outlets reported that the virus appears to have been passed from person to person and has killed several members of the same family.

I have the privilege of being invited to numerous events throughout my Southern Maryland district and I hear from a lot of people. I have had many conversations about this very issue.

While the Avian Influenza incidents are being reported in Indonesia, China and Thailand, one might be wondering “why should I worry?” The fact is, pandemics are almost impossible to track and when they pop up somewhere in the world, they invariably pop up in other “hot spots.” If you don’t think people in Maryland are concerned, you may have changed your mind if you took a Memorial Day weekend trip to Ocean City. You most surely would have seen several signs on the Eastern Shore assuring everyone that the chickens there are safe. Signs that are white with blue letters are as numerous as election year signs. They say “Eat Chicken Tonight.” It’s pretty obvious that because the poultry industry is so important to the Eastern Shore specifically and Maryland in general, they are trying to encourage people not to stay away from poultry products.

This past winter, I wrote to you about my concerns regarding the H5N1 flu strain. I did this after I spent part of an afternoon being briefed with my colleagues who sit on the Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee by experts on the subject of H5N1.

According to written testimony presented at that hearing, Dr. Julie Gerberding, Director of the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta said “This [avian influenza] is a very ominous situation for the globe. It is the most important threat we are facing right now.” This coming from a federal agency that does everything to assure everyone “to remain calm.”

More startling were the remarks of Dr. Michael T. Osterholm, an infectious disease expert. If Dr. Gerberding’s ominous warning wasn’t enough to get my attention, Dr. Osterholm’s really gave me reason for pause. He said “Pandemic planning must be on the agenda of every school board, manufacturing plan, investment firm, mortuary, STATE LEGISLATURE and food distributor in the United States.”

Luckily, Maryland has responded in a positive way to this positive threat. We have developed a website that addresses this issue: http://flu.Maryland.gov/. It’s a very good site that not only addresses the avian flu threat, but also reassures Marylanders that “There is not a flu pandemic in Maryland or in the United States.” However, the website does have links to pandemic preparedness and status reports on Avian Influenza. I encourage you to go there as it is very insightful on many different issues including simple tips such as reminding you to wash your hands as many times as possible.

It is not my intention to alarm you, but as I wrote to you back in the winter, there had been no transmittal between humans. However, now it appears there has been which I why I am updating you today. It is my intention to make you aware that we need to maintain our focus, our vision on this very real possibility. It cannot be ignored.

For instance, in the latest edition of the St. Mary’s Historical Society newsletter, W. Mike Hill writes about the “Spanish Flu Epidemic in St. Mary’ s County” in 1918-1919 which killed many St. Mary’s residents ranging from the age of two to 47 years of age.

So please, bookmark http://flu.Maryland.gov/ as one of your “favorites” in your computer right now.

[ Return To Senator Roy Dyson's Newsletter ]

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