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BMC informs residents of avian flu risks

8 Dec 2005 | Cpl. Giovanni Lobello

The Branch Medical Clinic is taking measures to raise awareness about the avian influenza virus on station.

The avian flu’s first major outbreak happened late 2003 and early 2004 in eight of Asia’s countries. Lesser outbreaks have been recorded back to 1997.

“The avian flu is also called the bird flu,” said Lt. j.g. Beth Kane, BMC clinical coordinator. “The flu is naturally in the intestines of birds. The virus can be passed to humans by contacting the saliva, nasal secretion and feces of wild animals. The illness also makes domesticated animals sick and can potentially kill them.”

According to the Center for Disease Control Web site, the bird flu virus does not usually infect humans, but more than 100 confirmed cases of human infections have transpired since 1997.

The avian flu virus spreads from one person to another and transmission has not been observed to continue beyond one person, according to the Web site.

“Saliva is one of the ways the virus transfers from person to person,” said Kane. “An example of that would be sharing a cup with an infected person. This is one of the reasons why the military is worried about the virus; because service members are in such close quarters.”

Most cases of avian influenza infection in humans have resulted from contact with infected poultry -- domesticated chicken, ducks and turkeys -- or surfaces contaminated with excretions from infected birds.

There is no evidence that properly cooked poultry or eggs can be a source of infection for avian flu viruses, according to the Center for Disease Control Web site.

“I’m really not worried about people getting it from food sold in the store,” said Kane. “The (Food and Drug Administration) in the (United States) is good with inspecting meats.”

The virus has several indicators that are common if someone becomes infected by the avian flu.

Common symptoms from the virus include signs of fever, cough, sore throat, eye infections and can be potentially life threatening.

“The virus usually occurs in cycles,” said Kane. “At one time, several people will be reported infected, and then no one will be infected for a while. The only way to find out if you’re infected is with a blood test.”

There is still no vaccine available to prevent or heal those infected by the avian flu.

“The only thing available to help treat the virus is anti-viral medication,” said Kane. “The Navy has around fifty thousand doses for the (Department of Defense) available in Southeast Asia, because that is where the virus is most common. They are still making more anti-viral medication to have available just in case.”

People in the U.S. shouldn’t be too concerned that there isn’t a vaccine for the virus, said Kane.

“The virus is not common in the U.S.,” she added. “We just want people to be aware about the possibility. There is nothing to be alarmed about now, but that is no reason to ignore it completely. People should still eat healthy and do all the things to make sure they remain in good health.”

Fore information about the avian flu, visit  http://www.cdc.gov.

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