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Indiana health officials balance avian flu panic
By NANCY VORIS
Indiana Correspondent

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. — Amidst a television movie and speculations depicting avian flu as a worldwide pandemic, health officials are working hard to create a balance between indifference and panic and encourage citizens to be prepared.

“Avian influenza might not cause a human influenza pandemic, but we need to be prepared, as pandemic flu would touch the lives of every single Hoosier,” said State Health Commissioner Judith A. Monroe, M.D.

“We are working closely with our state agency partners to prepare for avian influenza in Indiana, in case it should become a threat to human health.”

Monroe was joined by Indiana Department of Homeland Security Planning Division Director Cliff Wojtalewicz, State Veterinarian Bret Marsh and Indiana Department of Natural Resources Chief of Wildlife Wayne Bivans last week to announce new initiatives to help the state prepare for a possible flu outbreak and to clarify common misconceptions.

The announcement came the same day a television movie dramatized an outbreak of a human influenza pandemic that originated from avian influenza. Monroe said the movie was designed for entertainment and may go beyond known facts.

“We can’t predict what will happen with the next pandemic,” Monroe said, adding that it could be a mutation of the avian flu or something entirely different. “The likelihood of another pandemic is real, not a question of ‘if’ but ‘when.’”

State agencies have joined together to create a new website, www.fluinfo.in.gov, which will serve as a clearinghouse of timely and accurate information for Hoosiers and other visitors to the site.

Included is a checklist of ways citizens can prepare for a pandemic, including the practice of safe hygiene.

“This new website is an excellent example of how a number of state agencies are working together to prepare for these possible health threats,” said Wojtalewicz. “Each agency has an important role to play, and this site will explain those roles and provide Hoosiers with easy access to other important information.”

One purpose of the website is to provide accurate information that can help clear up any confusion or common misconceptions. This includes an explanation of the fact that avian influenza and pandemic influenza (a new virus that spreads worldwide rapidly) are not the same thing. They would only become linked if a form of avian influenza mutated into a strain of influenza that could be efficiently transmitted human to human.

Marsh stressed that human cases of avian flu in other countries are due to vastly different methods of raising poultry and birds.

Sometimes they are treated as pets and sleep with their owners.

“In those cases, humans are literally living with birds, and our husbandry practices are very different in the United States,” he said.

Indiana’s poultry industry and the Board of Animal Health have nearly doubled the testing of the state’s poultry flocks. Marsh said that poultry production in the United States is very different from other parts of the world, and avian influenza presents little risk to the country’s poultry and egg supply.

“It is very important to note that a diagnosed case of avian influenza in Indiana or the United States would not signal the start of a human influenza pandemic,” Marsh said. “It would prompt us to increase further our on-going monitoring of wild and domestic birds statewide.”

Marsh said the effort requires vigilance on the part of Hoosiers in monitoring dead birds. The USDA has established a national surveillance network, and citizens are asked to call Indiana’s USDA Wildlife Conflict Hotline at 800-893-4116 to report dead birds that died of suspicious causes.

“Currently we have no evidence indicating that this virus is present in our North American wild bird population,” Bivans said. “However, the DNR is working proactively with the USDA Wildlife Services to monitor migratory wild birds.”

This farm news was published in the May 17, 2006 issue of Farm World.

5/17/2006