Officials warn of flu distraction
They say seasonal sicknesses could be forgotten amid efforts to prevent a pandemic
While health officials are focused on preventing avian flu and other viruses from reaching Hawaii, they are also concerned about the usual flu that is around this time of year.
People with the highest risk for serious complications from seasonal influenza were given priority for flu shots until Monday.
Now, everyone should get a flu vaccine, Dr. Steve Monroe with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said yesterday.
People also should wash their hands frequently, cover their nose and mouth if they are ill, and "stay off cruise ships" and away from other places where they could spread the flu or other contagious disease, he said.
Monroe was one of three CDC doctors participating in a videoconference with Hawaii health, tourism and business leaders concerned about preventing and managing disease outbreaks and possible pandemics.
But normal health concerns, such as seasonal flu, cannot be forgotten while state and federal officials work on plans to prevent and detect avian flu and other new viruses, said Dr. Sarah Park, deputy chief of the state Health Department's Disease Outbreak Control Division.
People who get flu shots are protecting others, as well as themselves, and making it easier for doctors to diagnose any potential new problem, Park pointed out.
She could not say if there is enough vaccine in Hawaii to get through the flu season, but the CDC reported the supply is good this year. She said the DOH tried to order vaccine in case there is a shortage.
A nationwide flu vaccine shortage occurred last year.
Dr. Paul Effler, a state epidemiologist, noted that numerous shortages of vaccine have occurred in the five years he has been involved with the immunization program.
He asked the CDC officials participating in the videoconference if there is a federal plan to increase the capacity for vaccine production, specifically avian flu and influenza vaccine.
"It hampers public health if we don't have the fundamental tools to use," he said.
Monroe said the issue is being looked at, but there must be a consistent demand for vaccine as an incentive for manufacturers to provide a consistent supply.
Speaking from the Senate Building in Washington, D.C., Kim Elliott, deputy director of the Trust for America's Health, said contracts are being let to manufacturers to increase capacity and improve technology for vaccine production.
The CDC doctors, who were not on camera, described effects on the work force and lost productivity if a potential avian flu pandemic reached here. A pandemic is a global epidemic.
Avian flu is caused by influenza viruses that occur naturally among birds. Health officials are concerned that new strains can develop in animals and migrate to humans. Some cases of human infection have occurred since 1997.
CDC officials said they are conducting active surveillance with international partners, looking for any change in transmission of avian influenza.
State, military and private health care officials described measures they are taking to increase surveillance and provide for disease management and control in Hawaii.
"We have spent a lot of time developing emergency response and contingency plans," said Dr. Duane Gubler, director of the Asia-Pacific Institute of Tropical Medicine & Infectious Diseases.
But, he added, "They are only as good as the policy-makers who implement them." Failure to follow recommendations of the experts can weaken response to a major disease, he said.