State Department Webchat: Human Cases of Bird Flu Rare

The transcript of a webchat has been posted on the U.S. State Department website that discusses human infections from bird flu. Dr. Karen Smith, a public health director from California, explains that so far human infections are rare and that the disease will need to acquire the ability to transmit easily from person to person to become a severe health threat.
Dr. Karen Smith, public health director for Napa County, California, discussed the public health consequences of bird flu (avian influenza) during an Internet chat November 23.

"It is very important to keep in mind that avian influenza is currently a problem almost exclusively in BIRD populations and in limited areas of the world," Smith said in the webchat, hosted by the U.S. Department of State. "Remember that despite millions of exposures, only 126 human cases have been documented to date and there is currently no evidence of person-to-person transmission of this virus."

"To date the only humans to develop avian influenza are those with direct contact with poultry," she said.

Smith added that for an influenza virus to develop pandemic potential, it "must easily infect humans, it must be transmissible from person to person, and it must retain its virulence in order to result in significant morbidity or mortality. These criteria have not been met and there is no way to predict when, if ever, they will be."
The transcript includes an interesting Q & A with Dr. Smith. One of the questions was about what will happen if birds infected with H5N1 are found here in the U.S.
What would be the scenario if migratory birds were found to be positive for the strains of H5 that are of particular concern for mutating to a virus transmissible from human to human?

A -- Dr. Karen Smith: Both state and federal agencies are monitoring for die offs among migratory waterfowl. When a die off is seen, the birds are tested for influenza viruses. If HPAI H5N1 were detected, all local public health, agricultural commissioners and other local and state agencies would be notified. Increased surveillance among domestic flocks would then occur. Poultry farmers would be given instructions on how to protect their flocks from coming into contact with wild waterfowl, as this is believed to be the main route of introduction of the virus into domestic flocks. In addition restrictions on the movement of domestic birds into and out of the affected area would likely be put in place. Culling of wild flocks has not been shown to be effective and would probably not be done. If domestic flocks were affected, however, those flocks would be culled and the environment disinfected.
The site also points to the official U.S. government Website for pandemic flu information which is located here.

Posted on November 26, 2005

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