Two-day avian flu conference aims at preparing hospital administrators and health care workers

April 5, 2006

(COLLEGE STATION, TX) — The threat of a worldwide pandemic from the bird flu is possible, and health care organizations everywhere must work together to have proper plans in place for prevention, containment and treatment, a noted military official said Wednesday.

Colonel Matthew Dolan, USAF, Medical Corps, Director of Medical Operations spoke to more than 80 participants at a two-day conference hosted by the Texas A&M Health Science Center Office of Homeland Security, Getting Ready for Avian Flu: A Planning Tool for All Hazards.

Col. Matthew Dolan, USAF, Medical Corps, director of medical operations, comments came as keynote speaker to numerous national, regional and local health officials participating in a two-day emergency preparedness conference today and Thursday hosted by the Texas A&M Health Science Center Office of Homeland Security.

The conference at the Donald L. Houston Building – “Getting Ready for Avian Flu: A Planning Tool for All Hazards” – presented the latest information on the bird flu for hospital preparedness. Topics included isolation control, computerized resuscitation and ventilation management, air filtering, protective masks, new triage systems, architectural lessons from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, how to reconstitute a hospital system after a disaster and more.

Kicking off the conference, Dr. Paul K. Carlton, director of the HSC-Office of Homeland Security, and Col. Dolan compared the bird flu to the influenza outbreak in 1918. The similarities of both influenza strains, the polymerase gene and the NS gene, have serious implications for future outbreaks.

Taking bird flu to the next level, Col. Dolan addressed avian flu as a biological weapon and reminded the audience of Saddam Hussein’s first biological weapon in 1976 – influenza.

“The solution is in the history books,” Col. Dolan said. “We need to look back to what we have done with previous cases. We don’t need large investments—we need work.

“Science can be difficult, but the principles of avian flu are not,” he continued. “We’ve got to take the lessons we’ve learned from previous disease outbreaks and outline our responses to concerns and make a good plan.”

The H5N1 strain of bird flu in humans has evolved into two separate strains, U.S. researchers reported in mid-March. One strain affected Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand in 2003 and 2004, and the second, a cousin of the first, hit Indonesia two years ago.

Overall, the H5N1 strain has spread across Europe, Africa and parts of Asia, killing about 100 people worldwide and infecting another 180 since re-emerging in 2003. A deadly strain could appear in the United States in the next few months, as wild birds migrate from infected nations, Homeland Security Chief Michael Chertoff said recently.

A study earlier this year indicated even a mild pandemic of the bird flu could kill 1.4 million people worldwide and cost $330 billion in global economic losses.

People can become infected if they come into close contact with infected birds. Vaccines are being developed experimentally, but current forms are not expected to protect well, if at all, against any pandemic strain. Such a vaccine would be developed using the actual virus transmitted from person to person.

Conference speakers said that understanding the disease and history are the first steps in responding to any type of outbreak, but noted that fear does not further emergency preparedness.

“The public should not be scared,” Dr. Carlton said. “Just alerted.”

— Marketing & Communications