"Take Panic Out of Bird Flu Pandemic"
Oct 31, 2005 - 2:35:38 PM

AMA President, Dr Mukesh Haikerwal, today urged delegates to APEC meeting of influenza pandemic and disaster management specialists from the Asia-Pacific region to propose a responsible planning and response strategy based on education, information and preparedness, not fear and panic.

Dr Haikerwal said the potential for a pandemic is no surprise to the medical profession, but responsible planning is needed.

“People need to be able to get on with their lives without the prospect of some sort of ornithological Armageddon creating fear in the community,” Dr Haikerwal said.

“We need realistic scientific and environmental assessments of the risk of a flu pandemic, and then communicate those findings to the population in a calm and measured way. From the evidence and the incidence of bird flu that is out there at the moment, it is probably a bit early and irresponsible to be talking of widespread doom, destruction and death.

“Let’s remember there is no evidence of birds infected with bird flu in Australia. There have been fewer than 100 cases of bird-to-human transmission of the virus, and no cases of human-to-human transmission worldwide. People need to understand that the present avian flu virus cannot cause a pandemic because it is barely infectious to humans. You have to work very hard to catch it.

“This virus has to mutate to a virus that is much more infectious to humans before it can cause a flu pandemic. It would be better to be spreading positive messages about preparedness and protection against whatever strain of influenza – be it mutated bird flu or not – should it hit our shores at pandemic levels.

“But the big job of this APEC meeting is to define the risk and put it all into a proper timeframe in a calm and reassuring manner without all the ‘sky is falling’ rhetoric. We must mount a rational, measured response.

“Sure, we need awareness. We need response planning – especially getting GPs into the frontline. We need responsible discussion about anti-viral medication and possibly immunisation.

“There must be careful interaction between the response planners and the people on the ground who will deliver care to the community. And we need to address the capacity of our over-stretched public hospitals to deal with such an emergency. Early warning systems to detect and identify the disease and monitor its progress are also essential.

“The Australian position on a possible bird flu pandemic at this time should be about risk management, not panic mismanagement,” Dr Haikerwal said.

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