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RAF LAKENHEATH, England — A top medical official at Lakenheath said Tuesday that its facilities are prepared for a pandemic influenza outbreak following the recent discovery of the potentially deadly H5N1 avian influenza — better known as bird flu — at a nearby poultry farm.

Lakenheath officials developed an installation response plan last June to assist military personnel by providing medical care, controlling chaos and preventing the spread of an outbreak. The base has the largest U.S. military hospital in the United Kingdom and regularly treats patients from other bases.

Thousands of turkeys died last week from the virus at the farm in Holton, about 55 miles east of Lakenheath. About 160,000 other turkeys have been culled and disposed of since then, according to the British Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

A 1.8-mile protection zone and a six-mile surveillance zone were emplaced around the infected farm that restricts the movement of poultry, and requires them and other captive birds to be isolated from wild birds, the agency said.

As part of Lakenheath’s response plan, various units from the base would come together to manage the outbreak, said Lt. Col. Steven Hinten, the base public health flight commander.

“There would be different avenues of approach in limiting the exposure of influenza,” he said.

Depending on the situation, the base could institute so-called social distancing, such as canceling school and other public activities, managing personnel flow in and out of the base, and advertising symptoms and prevention tips to base personnel.

On the medical side, the main thing would be tackling the patient flow, Hinten said. The hospital could set up an influenza illness clinic to separate infected personnel from other patients. The clinic would serve as a triage area to determine who is worse off than others, he said.

Last year, ABC News and The New York Times reported that if there were a worldwide avian influenza outbreak among humans, hospitals could exceed their supply of ventilators, which are used to assist the breathing of those with respiratory illnesses, such as influenza.

Hinten agreed, and said that was one of the issues discussed at Lakenheath.

“Various options have been looked at, to include possible outside support from within [Department of Defense], if available, and/or maybe even from the local civilian community,” Hinten said.

He added that there is also a possibility that ventilators in this kind of incident wouldn’t be needed.

Other Air Force bases in the U.K. have devised similar response plans after U.S. Air Forces in Europe issued a template for handling a pandemic influenza outbreak in June.

Hinten stressed that Lakenheath’s plan does not cover other bases in the U.K.; however, some outside infected personnel could seek medical care at the base if need be, he said.

“They put together their own plans as well so as to appropriately address the issues that are unique to their area,” he said. “That is something we have discussed and will adjust to if the situation presents itself.”

Hinten said he hasn’t really noticed any concerns in the base community regarding the recent bird flu findings. He believes this may be due to last year’s on-base advertising campaign.

“We provided information on bird flu through base publications, commander’s access channel and pamphlets,” he said.

He said that the pamphlets are still available inside base medical facilities.

The H5N1 virus is a highly pathogenic strand of bird flu that has been responsible for killing 165 people worldwide, in addition to countless numbers of birds. In May, cases of a low-pathogenic strand of bird flu were reported from chicken farms in Dereham, about 35 miles northeast of Lakenheath, according to news reports.

There have been no reports of humans becoming ill in this latest outbreak, but England’s Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs still advised bird owners to be watchful and contact authorities if they suspect disease.

Anyone who finds dead wild gulls, waders, ducks, geese or swans, as well as groups of dead birds, can report it to the DEFRA helpline on 08459 33 55 77.

For more information on avian influenza and the latest outbreak, go to www.defra.gov.uk/animalh/diseases/notifiable/disease/ai.

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