By Tim Cox
Mercer County officials plan an informational meeting about the prospect of a global avian flu pandemic and how such an outbreak might affect the local area.
Mercer County Emergency Management Coordinator Wanda Dicke and county Health Commissioner Dr. Philip Masser will address the bird flu issue during a public meeting April 19 at the county Central Services Building in Celina. The pair recently attended a seminar hosted by the Ohio Department of Health.
"I felt I would not be doing my job if we did not pass on this information to folks who could be greatly affected," Dicke said in a letter to more than 200 government, school and health officials inviting them to the meeting.
The avian flu -- or bird flu as it is commonly called -- is expected to develop into a worldwide pandemic. A pandemic is defined as a new strain of illness that causes serious illness worldwide and can be spread easily from person to person.
There has not been an influenza pandemic since 1968-69 when the "Hong Kong flu" caused about 34,000 deaths in the United States. Prior worldwide flu pandemics in 1957-58 and 1918-19 killed 70,000 and 400,000 Americans respectively. The 1918-19 "Spanish flu" pandemic killed an estimated 50 million people worldwide. Experts believe the current strain of avian flu eventually will develop into a global problem.
"They expect it to happen yet this year. It's our job to get people prepared," Dicke said.
Because it has been so long since the last flu pandemic, world health officials say the world is overdue for a global outbreak, whether the avian flu is the culprit or not.
"The other pandemics were bad enough. This one, they keep saying, could be so much worse," Dicke said.
People who contract the bird flu -- even those who survive -- would be ill for one to two weeks, Dicke said. Long-term illnesses spread over a large segment of the population would have dire consequences for the public health and the local economy, Dicke said.
"We want people to take a look at this and be aware of it," Dicke said.
Bird flu could have additional implications if it turns up locally. The county's large livestock farms are home to millions of birds that could potentially help spread the avian flu virus.
"This could be a real hardship," Dicke said. "Maybe we can't head it off but we can be more prepared."