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Potential bird flu outbreak has Ohio officials planning
By JANE HOUIN
Ohio Correspondent

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Last week, Ohio Gov. Bob Taft joined federal, state and local government leaders and representatives from Ohio’s business and health care communities in a pandemic flu exercise.

The daylong exercise was at the Ohio Emergency Management Agency (EMA) and provided a forum to evaluate the state’s response plan and coordinate activities among the various agencies.

“We must continue to prepare all levels of government to respond effectively if a pandemic occurs,” said Taft. “This exercise will help us determine how we can best be prepared to respond, reduce incidence of sickness and maintain the continuity of government and essential business operations in the event of a pandemic.”

During the exercise, participants were given three scenarios in which to discuss Ohio’s response plan - a human case identified in California; a human case identified in Ohio; and a widespread illness in Ohio.

Taft was joined in the exercise with officials from the Ohio Department of Health (ODH), Ohio Department of Public Safety, Ohio EMA, Ohio Department of Administrative Services, Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODA) and the Ohio Adjutant General Gregory Wayt.

Ed Buikema, regional director from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) also participated in the discussions.

“We must be vigilant in our preparation so that if pandemic flu does hit, we can detect it quickly and respond aggressively,” Taft said. “Ohio’s comprehensive pandemic flu planning effort will integrate strategies at various levels of government, coordinate activities across all sectors of health care, emergency response and homeland security, and provide Ohioans the information they need to protect themselves and their families.”

Avian influenza is a virus that can cause a varying amount of disease among birds, including chickens, turkeys, pheasants, quail, geese and ducks as well as a variety of other birds. Virus strains can be either low or high pathogenic, based on the severity of the illness they cause in poultry.

The ODA’s Division of Animal Industry has provided surveillance for avian influenza on commercial poultry populations for more than 20 years, with current efforts including surveillance testing of commercial poultry from collected blood samples.

In April of this year, a new ODH and EPA laboratory and an upgrade to the ODA Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory were dedicated at ODA’s Reynoldsburg campus. The state-of-the-art facilities will help better protect Ohioans and the livestock industry and positions each agency to more effectively share scientific knowledge and resources, especially in situations such as a potential avian influenza outbreak.

There have been no outbreaks of high-pathogenic strains of avian influenza (the strains more harmful to humans) reported in Ohio. To date, there have also been no incidents of transmission to humans reported in the United States. According to the ODA, while an outbreak similar to that in Asia occurring here is unlikely, the United States has significant procedures in place for managing such an outbreak should it occur, including destruction and disposal of infected birds.

Ohio’s Pandemic Flu Preparedness Plan, developed two years ago and subsequently revised, is an integrated planning and response approach led by the ODH, along with the ODA, Natural Resources and Public Safety, the State of Ohio Security Task Force and The Ohio State University and other key state agencies.

The state’s plan suggests that many of the things Ohioans can do to prepare for a pandemic are things that can be done to prepare for any widespread emergency. Those include: storing a one-week supply of nonperishable food and water; getting an extra supply of regular prescription drugs; establishing a family communication plan; and ensuring all flashlights and portable radios have fully charged batteries.

Ohio’s Pandemic Flu Plan can be found on the Web at www.ohiopandemicflu.gov

The state has participated in other pandemic flu preparation activities including a Feb. 17 planning summit hosted by U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt.

The summit convened more than 500 health, emergency management, agriculture, business and community leaders representing all parts of Ohio. On April 11, the Ohio Departments of Agriculture and Health led an exercise similar to last week’s to address a possible avian flu pandemic.

In the case of an outbreak in birds, the state would operate under that State Emergency Operations Plan, which provides for quick and effective containment of any disease outbreak.

The ODA is responsible for quarantining facilities and disposal of animals during any animal disease outbreak.

Existing state laws require all livestock and poultry brought into Ohio to have a certificate of veterinary inspection to ensure the animals are free of disease.

This farm news was published in the June 21, 2006 issue of Farm World, serving Indiana, Ohio, Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan and Tennessee.

6/21/2006