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79 MDG prepare avian influenza pandemic plan

ANDREWS AFB, Md. -- There's another type of flu that isn't covered by the flu vaccines given here; it hasn't made it to the United States, and before it does, personnel here are already preparing for the day it occurs.

There have been cases of the avian bird flu H5N1 virus in Asia, Europe and Africa. There's no commercially available vaccine to protect humans, and the annual flu vaccines, given by the 79th Medical Group, don't protect individuals from the H5N1 virus. Anti-viral drugs such as Tamiflu aren't a vaccine or prophylaxis, but instead simply serve as a treatment aid.

There's no need to panic, stressed Elaine Wilhelm-Hass, 79 MDW Infection Prevention and Control officer and a registered nurse for more than 28 years.

According to Ms. Wilhelm-Hass, Col. Chris Lewan-dowski, 79 MDG public health emergency officer, the 79th Aerospace Medicine Squadron Public Health flight, under Lt. Col. Andrea R. Krull, has taken the leadership role in an effort to ensure compliance with Air Force distributed guidance on disease containment. Ms. Wilhelm-Hass manages working groups developing a wing-level pandemic plan to address contingencies such as avian influenza, otherwise referred to as the bird flu.

"We expect to develop a practical pandemic disease containment plan, with emphasis on avian influenza," said Ms. Wilhelm-Hass. The working groups involve representatives from every medical squadron to address components such as surgery and emergency services planning, fever triage clinics, laboratory, immunizations, logistics, pharmacy and occupational health just to name a few.

According to Ms. Wilhelm-Hass, "An influenza pandemic has historically sickened estimates of up to 40 percent of the workforce."

Other base agencies, such as security forces and public affairs, also sit on working groups with medical personnel for other components such as fever triage and information hotlines.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Web site, the last flu outbreak occurred in 1918. At least 75,000 of Baltimore's 600,000 residents became ill with the flu virus and more than 2,000 died.

No one has to become a casualty in the event of a flu outbreak. "Basic simple infection control practices are your best bet for preventing any disease," said Ms. Wilhelm-Hass.
Some of the practices she recommends include:

- Wash hands for at least 15 seconds using vigorous friction of all hand surfaces. The duration can easily be remembered by silently humming a tune such as "Happy Birthday."

- Practice and enforce good cough etiquette: cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue or one's sleeve, instead of hands.

- When co-workers are coughing or sneezing, try to stay at least three feet away from them. Disease carried by cough and sneeze droplets usually fall to the ground within three feet.

- If ill, coughing, sneezing or running a fever, stay home.

While it's been almost a century since the last major flu outbreak in the United States, some experts predict it's only a matter of time before the next major flu outbreak on domestic soil. Isolated cases of the H5N1 avian influenza virus in other countries serve as a warning sign. However, before something happens here, various members of Team Andrews are already busy preparing for a potential outbreak and making plans to eliminate loss of life and ensure the mission continues.
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