YONGSAN GARRISON, South Korea — The smartest thing U.S. Forces Korea servicemembers, workers and family members can do to ward against avian flu is get their normal, everyday flu shot, USFK health officials say.

Avian flu is related to the annual human flu that so many people suffer from each year, according to Lt. Col. Lee Hee-choon, a doctor and consultant to the 18th Medical Command.

While a flu shot isn’t a vaccine against the avian flu, it is a precaution in preventing the two viruses mixing, Lee said. A person catching both strains, then spreading it to other people, could spark the flu pandemic that world health officials fear.

“The two viruses can mix and match,” Lee said Friday. “Then you’ve got a super virus. That’s a formula for pandemic influenza.”

In recent days, scientists have discovered avian flu in Turkey, the first time the virus has been detected in Europe. Turkey has killed 7,600 birds and disinfected more than 12 acres of land around a turkey farm where 1,800 birds died of the disease, The New York Times reported.

On Friday, the South Korean government issued an alert to its poultry farmers to remind them that a migratory bird season will begin in the next few weeks.

Avian flu is common among birds. They transmit it to each other through saliva, feces and nasal secretions. Eight years ago, humans began catching the virus. About half of the people who have had the infection have died. Health experts suspect the virus is transmitted to people from the birds’ contaminated living areas.

South Korea and Japan both have two of the best systems for squashing the bird flu, Lee said. From late 2003 to early 2004, South Korean officials reported 19 instances of the disease. The country slaughtered 5.3 million birds and no people died, South Korean health officials have told Stars and Stripes.

USFK health officials have been working with the Korean government and health professionals to share information about the avian flu, both to prevent outbreaks and to plan responses should the virus return to the peninsula.

“Koreans have a good track records and we have a good relationship with them,” Lee said, adding that servicemembers and other Americans in South Korea “have nothing to fear.”

USFK’s first shipment of flu vaccines has arrived and is being distributed to health clinics throughout the region, Lee said. Vaccinations likely will begin in the next few days, though servicemembers have first priority. Other shipments will arrive in coming weeks, he said.

Sign Up for Daily Headlines

Sign up to receive a daily email of today's top military news stories from Stars and Stripes and top news outlets from around the world.

Sign Up Now