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Published: Tuesday, 10/25/2005

Local plan developed for bird flu response


Local health officials have a plan to deal with bird flu - and that's about all they have.

What they and every other health authority in the country lack is an effective vaccine to protect against the bird flu.

Scientists are racing to develop a vaccine that might protect the public against bird flu, which though quite deadly, has so far not mutated into a form easily spread from person to person.

In the meantime, health departments like the Toledo-Lucas County Health Department have developed response plans outlining how they'd vaccinate their population.

Dr. David Grossman, health commissioner for the department, and Larry Vasko, deputy health commissioner, yesterday briefed Toledo City Council's health and community relations committee on their efforts.

The plan, still under development, calls for setting up about 21 mass vaccination clinics within Lucas County and vaccinating the entire county's population within 48 hours, according to Mr. Vasko.

Other parts of the plan call for establishing isolation and quarantine procedures for those sick with the bird flu, should it ever appear.

Federal authorities yesterday said while the bird flu has gotten a lot of attention, the general public shouldn't forget about run-of-the-mill flu, and encouraged the public to get vaccinated.

Michael Leavitt, federal Health and Human Services secretary, said in a teleconference call yesterday: "I want to emphasize that we do not have a human flu pandemic right now."

He said because the normal flu kills 36,000 Americans annually, those who want to avoid getting the flu should get vaccinated.

As of yesterday, according to previously announced federal guidelines, anyone who wants a flu shot can ask for one, not just those at high-risk for the flu.

This year's flu vaccine supply appears to be normal, with no danger of shortages like those seen last year, Mr. Leavitt said.

The flu vaccine available does not protect against bird flu. Flu strains mutate each year, which is why each year's flu vaccine is a little different from previous years, and why one has to be vaccinated against the flu every year to gain protection.

The bird flu is different than normal flu strains in that it is circulating in birds and thus people have no natural immunity to it - if it ever mutates into a form spread easily from person to person, which so far it hasn't done.

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