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Check our Web site Tuesday for latest on avian flu threat

May 29, 2006

Every time there is story on network television about the avian flu, it is invariably accompanied by video of someone in a Third World country shoveling a dead chicken or two into a sack.

The message that video sends, though it's probably unintended, is that the danger is somewhere else, far away from the U.S. Some may get the idea that a pandemic outbreak of the "bird flu" couldn't happen here.

Of course it could. According to U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there have been pandemic outbreaks of flu three times in this century - 1918-19, 1957-58 and 1968-69.

The first of those three pandemics killed between 20 million and 40 million worldwide, with 675,000 Americans among the fatalities. According to Stanford University researchers, 28 percent of all Americans were infected before it was over.

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During the first pandemic, it is thought that a combination of shipping and mobilization of World War I troops brughty the virus to the U.S. With global travel as simple as it is today, the illness might cross the oceans today just as easily as it did so many years ago.

In April, officials from the CDC, Washington County Health Department and the Washington County Health System, parent of the Washington County Hospital, told Herald-Mail readers about the flu strain and what precautions they would need to take if there were an outbreak.

If you would like to learn more, three of those experts will be on hand tomorrow, Tuesday, May 30, beginning at 7:30 a.m., for an online chat with The Herald-Mail and visitors to its Web site.

To e-mail questions ahead of time, send them to onlinechat@herald-mail.com. If you would like to participate in the chat as it is happening, go to www.herald-mail.com and go to the bar at the top of the page. Then click on "chat."

The three guests for this chat will include William Christoffel, Washington County's health officer, Dr. John Newby, a pathologist and John Latimer, the Washington County government's director of emergency services.

There is no emergency yet, but paying attention to tomorrow's chat could give you a better chance to survive, if there is a flu outbreak.

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