Experts: Be aware, not worried, about bird flu
December 2, 2006
YONGSAN GARRISON, South Korea — Medical officials say there is little to fear from a recent bird flu outbreak if people use a few good-sense guidelines.
South Korean authorities have destroyed hundreds of thousands of chickens and ducks and hundreds of dogs and pigs in the area where the potentially deadly H5N1 bird flu was discovered last week about 150 miles south of Seoul. A second outbreak was discovered at a nearby farm earlier this week.
U.S. Forces Korea officials posted a South Korean Avian Influenza Outbreak medical advisory on the USFK Web site — www.usfk.mil — on Thursday.
The only U.S. military facility in the area is Kunsan Air Base, which is about 16 miles from the farms.
Lt. Col. Eric T. Lund, 18th Medical Command preventive medicine consultant, said Wednesday that military community members across the peninsula should be “be aware of it, but not worried.”
Most cases of infection result from direct contact with the poultry, their feces or with discharges from the birds’ mouths and beaks, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Another threat is from eating or handling undercooked or raw poultry products.
Lund said people should not avoid eating chicken or eggs, as long as the food is well cooked.
“No pink chicken, no runny yolks,” he said.
Heat kills the H5N1 virus, so poultry and eggs should be cooked to an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit, Lund said. Freezing the products does not kill the virus, he stressed.
People also should practice good hygiene habits, including washing their hands, Lund said.
And getting a seasonal flu vaccination also is recommended, he said.
Children should be reminded not to play with any dead birds they discover, Lund said.
South Korea has not instituted any product recall but has isolated with three levels of quarantine the chicken farms that housed the infected poultry. As of Wednesday, animals within a 500-meter radius were being culled.
People cannot remove feed, manure or egg plates within a nearly 2-mile radius of the farms, and no chickens, birds or eggs can be moved out of a 6-mile radius.
No humans have been infected in this outbreak, Lund said.
But worldwide, 153 of the 258 people who have been infected in other outbreaks since 2003 have died, according to the World Health Organization.
While people aren’t passing the virus to other people — it currently travels only from poultry to people, except in extremely rare cases — health officials fear it might mutate and cause a pandemic.
Lund pointed to the Spanish flu of 1918-1919 that killed 50 million people worldwide, including 675,000 in the United States. He said that was the result of a bird flu that humans transmitted to each other.
All chicken, eggs on bases from U.S. sourcesSEOUL — The United States is now the sole provider of all the chicken and eggs served on its military bases and sold in commissaries in South Korea, officials confirmed Thursday.
That’s been the case since earlier this year when the South Korean company also contracted to provide chicken to the commissaries voluntarily pulled its products off the shelves because U.S. military inspectors discovered higher-than-normal bacteria levels in fresh chicken deliveries.
Moguchon company officials have said they’re working with the U.S. military to improve their refrigeration and storage process and hope to have their products back on commissary shelves.
The concern, according to Moguchon, is about E. coli bacteria that can cause severe intestinal illness and, in some cases, death.
Moguchon officials said their chicken passes South Korean quality standards, but American standards are stricter.
Military officials have reported no illnesses because of the bacteria and called the most recent concerns “minor.”
— T.D. Flack
What if ...
YONGSAN GARRISON, South Korea — What would happen if the avian flu — or H5N1 — mutates to the point where humans can pass it to each other?
The predictions are pretty bleak, according to information provided by the U.S. Army Center for Health Promotion and Preventive Medicine.
If avian flu evolves to a point where it can be transmitted between humans, people will have little or no immunity, according the center’s brochure.
The result could be a pandemic — a global flu epidemic — that could affect 20 percent to 50 percent of the world’s population.
Even though scientists are working on a vaccine to protect against a pandemic, the reality is there probably won’t be an adequate supply, according to the Army.
“Once the pandemic strain is identified, vaccine development and production may take several months,” the brochure states. Also, antiviral drugs could be in short supply and might not be effective against the virus.
The brochure states that steps are being taken to prepare for a possible pandemic, including:
— T.D. Flack
Bird flu symptoms
Bird flu symptoms range from fever, cough, sore throat and muscle aches to diarrhea, eye infections, pneumonia, severe respiratory diseases and other severe and life-threatening complications.
Because symptoms often are similar to those of human seasonal influenza, laboratory tests are required to confirm avian flu.
Source: Occupational Safety and Health Administration