With the eyes of much of the Western world focused on Turkey and its recent cases of avian flu, the leader of the largest U.S. military contingent in the country says his base is doing what it can to prepare for a potential outbreak.

Col. Tip Stinnette, commander of the 39th Air Base Wing at Incirlik Air Base, said in a phone interview Wednesday that the base population is well-informed and medical personnel on base are trained to diagnose and combat such a disease.

No U.S. or Turkish personnel on base have come down with the deadly strain of the flu, and there have been no reported cases in the nearby city of Adana — or within hundreds of miles, in fact.

But Stinnette said the issue was on the radar screen before cases even appeared in the country.

“We’ve been watching this with some interest for quite some time,” he said, adding that medical authorities at Incirlik are required to report on flu strains they encounter to higher headquarters as a matter of course. When cases of the deadly virus were discovered in Turkey, base leadership “got a lot more interested.”

Stinnette said within an hour of receiving media reports on the first cases, airmen were gathering information to broadcast precautionary information and updates on the base’s command information television channel.

Such information includes warnings against visiting areas where potentially sick birds live and eating poultry products that haven’t been cooked to an internal temperature of at least 165 degrees. Personnel also have been told to routinely wash their hands and report to the base clinic promptly if they experience flulike symptoms.

Stinnette said his efforts have not included restricting personnel from visiting local poultry markets or traveling to any areas in Turkey that might have reported cases.

He said he couldn’t legally do that, though he can have airmen “tell me where you are going outside the wire, and I do that.” So, in cases where personnel say they’re heading to potentially dangerous areas, the command can try to persuade them not to go.

There have long been areas in Turkey where Americans are encouraged not to go for various reasons, Stinnette said, adding: “This practice predates the recency of bird flu.”

He said the base does not have any of the anti-flu drug oseltamivir (Tamiflu), but expects to receive some next week.

In the event that someone on base is diagnosed with a case of the deadly strain of bird flu, that person would initially be treated on base. If the base can’t adequately do so, local hospitals or an evacuation to a facility such as Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany would be options.

Stinnette said the military has to plan for such contingencies and has assets trained to take on such tasks. But he said he was reluctant to talk about such plans, because they always include variables that may or may not happen. And discussing such plans sometimes causes alarm.

Stinnette said he doesn’t believe such a feeling is prevalent on base, adding that panic would only “kick in when I don’t inform the base population.”

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Kent has filled numerous roles at Stars and Stripes including: copy editor, news editor, desk editor, reporter/photographer, web editor and overseas sports editor. Based at Aviano Air Base, Italy, he’s been TDY to countries such as Afghanistan Iraq, Kosovo and Bosnia. Born in California, he’s a 1988 graduate of Humboldt State University and has been a journalist for almost 38 years.

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