Isle behaviors at risk in pandemic
Health officials say that social activities would need altering in case of an outbreak
Greet your friends with fewer kisses. Avoid big parties.
The people of Hawaii will have to cut back on their friendly hellos and socializing to contain an influenza pandemic if one reaches the islands, the state health director said yesterday.
"Here in Hawaii we're very touchy-feely people -- we kiss each other when we say hello," Dr. Chiyome Fukino told reporters on the sidelines of a state influenza summit. "What we do know is that in a pandemic, those simple social graces will need to be set aside for a period of time ... Don't kiss everybody all over the place."
She said authorities will also have to encourage people to avoid large social gatherings and stay at home if they don't need to go out.
Fukino said such advice will be in easy-to-understand messages the Health Department is preparing to send out to residents and businesses to help them get ready for an outbreak should it occur.
She said it is important to prepare and not to panic about the disease.
Experts say it is only a matter of time before a global flu epidemic hits. They say it is only unclear when and where it will erupt and how deadly it will be.
Scientists are particularly concerned about a virulent and deadly form of avian flu known as H5N1 that has killed millions of birds from Asia to Europe.
People don't catch the virus easily, but more than half of the roughly 200 people that have contracted the disease since 2003 have died. Experts fear this virus could mutate, start jumping easily between people and launch a pandemic.
There have been three pandemics in the past century, the most deadly being the 1918 Spanish flu that killed millions around the world.
U.S. Surgeon General Richard Carmona, in Hawaii for the pandemic readiness conference, said the state's location and its large tourist population gave Hawaii a unique opportunity and responsibility to combat and prepare for an outbreak.
"Hawaii has a very difficult position because not only is Hawaii a state, but really it is kind of a hub for the Pacific," Carmona said. "There is so much traffic that comes in and out of here."
Gov. Linda Lingle said everyone had a responsibility to help contain the disease.
"It is important for people to understand what they can do, what they should be doing," Lingle said.