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July 7, 2006

Oswego County Health Director: ‘Learn the Facts About Bird Flu’

Although H5N1 bird flu may eventually arrive in the United States, Kathleen Smith, Director of Public Health for the Oswego County Health Department, reminds residents that the highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) has not been found anywhere in the nation, to date. Health officials have procedures in place, said Smith, to detect the disease quickly, when and if it arrives.

“Experts think HPAI bird flu could come to the United States sometime this year. But it is not here yet,” she said. “What is important now is that we have the time to learn about HPAI and be prepared for it.”

Smith said there are several important points that people should know about HPAI:

Bird flu is not the same thing as pandemic flu.

  • Pandemic flu would make people sick all over the world.
  • It would spread easily from person to person.
  • Bird flu does not do that.
  • Bird flu would have to change form to become pandemic flu. We don’t know if this will ever happen.

Bird flu is hard for people to catch.

  • Most people who became sick with bird flu came in contact with sick chickens and ducks and touched them with their bare hands.
  • You can also get bird flu by touching things that had droppings from sick or dead birds on them.
  • Meat that has been cooked all the way through cannot give you bird flu.

Even though bird flu is not here right now, you should never touch live or dead wild birds with your bare hands.

  • Birds can carry many kinds of germs that can make us sick.
  • A bird could look fine and still be sick.
  • If you have to pick up a dead or sick bird, wear gloves and wash your hands afterward.

“If you are concerned about bird flu, stay aware of what’s happening with HPAI elsewhere in the world,” said Smith. “Become informed. We want you to learn about it, not worry about it.”

Smith suggests two Internet sites for those who wish to learn more about avian influenza: www.nyhealth.gov and www.avianflu.gov.

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