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April 24, 2006

Media campaign to quell panic over bird flu ready to airThe Associated Press

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) State health officials are ready to air a media campaign upon the first reports of avian flu in New York to extinguish any flare-up of public panic.

The ads stress that the appearance of a bird infected with the H5N1 virus does not mean an outbreak in humans is looming, officials at the state Health Department said.

``The important, No. 1 message is that just because infection appears in the animal population, it doesn't mean there's a higher chance it will move into the human population,'' said Dennis Whalen, the state's deputy health commissioner.

The campaign, which includes print, radio and TV spots, will run in the late summer or early fall as a precursor to the regular flu season regardless of whether avian flu surfaces in the state. The ads will run sooner if reports of avian flu surface before then.

``Education leads to informed individuals, and that will reduce the panic,'' Whalen said.

Despite the ads, fear is nevertheless certain to spread if the virus is found in the United States an occurrence federal health officials predict could happen within the next couple of weeks.

Half those surveyed in an AP-Ipsos survey last week said they thought the bird flu would kill them if they contracted it. About half also said they weren't confident the government would properly handle an outbreak among humans.

Health experts fear the H5N1 virus will eventually mutate into a form that spreads easily among people, potentially sparking a global pandemic. So far, most cases have been traced to close contact with infected birds. The virus remains hard for humans to catch and spread among each other.

At least 109 people worldwide have died from bird flu since outbreaks of H5N1 swept through Asian poultry populations in late 2003, according to the World Health Organization.

``It's important to stress that the transmission to humans may not even ever happen. There are many parts of the world where avian flu has been around for years, but humans were never infected,'' said Rob Kenny, spokesman for the Health Department.

The ads by the state Health Department will highlight basic measures that can prevent the spread of flu, including hand washing and not going to work when infected.

``People have a tendency to focus on anti-viral vaccines. But the most effective methods to prevent the spread of disease are well known,'' Whalen said.

Funding has not been set aside for the media campaign; most media outlets will run the ads as a public service as they did when fears of West Nile virus were rampant. The Health Department also will work with private institutions like utilities and chain groceries to distribute educational materials on avian and pandemic flu. The department also is hosting a media seminar Friday to educate journalists.

Birds infected with H5N1 will be reported to either the Department of Environmental Conservation or the Department of Agriculture and Markets, depending on whether the infected bird is a wild or domestic.

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^On the Net:

New York State Department of Health, www.health.state.ny.us

New York State Department of Agriculture & Markets, www.agmkt.state.ny.us/

New York State Department of Environment Conservation, www.dec.state.ny.us/

Posted by dymaxion at April 24, 2006 03:28 PM

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