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The U.S. military medical community is “quite concerned” about Japan’s latest case of bird flu, Col. Mark Presson said Friday.

Last week, a disease-control team incinerated about 12,000 chickens that died of avian influenza or were culled at a farm in Miyazaki prefecture, according to The Associated Press. Inspections were conducted at about a dozen nearby farms, and authorities banned the shipment of eggs and chickens from those farms.

“This always causes some concern but Japan has taken a very aggressive approach,” Presson said. “They rounded up those birds and destroyed the ones that were affected.

“But I think we all see the potential. We haven’t had a major pandemic for some time. … It can be devastating across all ages. Regardless of where you go, this issue is talked about.”

The animals at the southern Japan farm tested positive for the H5N1 strain of the virus — the one blamed for more than 160 human deaths worldwide. No one at the southern Japan farm has fallen ill from the disease, according to The Associated Press.

Presson said the lethal H5N1 strain of the virus doesn’t move easily from person to person. But viruses mutate constantly, and that’s driving concerns.

“It makes managing a viral pandemic very difficult,” he said. “Today’s issue may not be tomorrow’s. That’s the challenge of flu management and prevention.”

USFJ and its component branches all have mapped out contingency plans to deal with the significant numbers of patients they would face in the event of a major outbreak, he added. U.S. and Japanese hospitals also have stockpiles of medication such as Tamiflu.

In next month’s combined Keen Edge and Yama Sakura exercises, a bird-flu scenario will be played out among participants, Presson said.

As with the seasonal variety, there also are simple steps people can take to avoid contracting the bird flu, he said, including:

n Get a flu shot to decrease the risk of a compounding viral infection and possible complications.

n Wash your hands regularly, especially after coughing or sneezing.

n Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth as much as possible.

n Stay away from sick people and avoid others by staying at home if you feel ill.

n Don’t go near sick or dead birds.

“These are real basic things, but when you know there’s an outbreak, keep your distance,” Presson said.


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