Sunday, March 19, 2006

Bird Flu in the Czech Republic

Although avian flu has already been found in birds in Austria, Germany, Poland and Slovakia, it has yet to surface in the Czech Republic. But of course the Czech Republic, like the rest of Europe, is taking precautions against the spread of the virus. This past week I found an A5 size flyer in my mailbox entitled Ptačí Chřipka: Informace pro veřejnost (“Avian Influenza: Information for the public”). I read in the newspaper the next day that the flyer was being distributed to every household in the country.

The informational flyer was produced by the Ministry of Agriculture rather than the Ministry of Health – a point from which I infer that the Czechs have not yet lost their sense of perspective on the problem.

On the front side of the flyer are 5 questions and answers.

  1. What is avian flu? The answer explains that it is a virus that affects birds, both wild and domestic, and goes on to describe the symptoms of a sick bird.
  1. What is the risk of bird flu being transmitted to people? The answer explains that the risk is low, and that people have only contracted bird flu in exceptional circumstances, meaning close and extensive contact with stricken birds. Therefore people should avoid unnecessary contact with birds as well as with their droppings and feathers.
  1. What are the symptoms of avian flu in people? The answer describes the symptoms, and then goes on to explain that the probability of any people getting bird flu in the Czech Republic is extremely low and that in the conditions here, the virus is really a veterinary problem.
  1. How does one protect oneself against bird flu? The answer is about hygiene and washing and disinfecting one’s hands if one has had contact with birds or their poo. The answer also mentions that people who work with birds may have to wear protective clothing.
  1. Should we be worried about eating poultry or poultry products? The answer is no, that birds on poultry farms are being monitored, and that one need only follow the usual rules of hygiene and cook poultry or eggs properly. The virus will not survive temperatures of 70°C or above, and the time needed at this temperature is just one second.

The back of the flyer offers six points of practical advice:

  1. If you should come across a bunch of dead wild birds, inform the veterinary authorities or a private veteran or the police.
  2. Don’t go near sick or dead birds and tell your children to stay away from them.
  3. Wash your hands regularly and especially before you eat. Cook in a hygienic manner.
  4. Don’t allow your dogs, cats, etc to be exposed to sick or dead birds.
  5. If you are going to a country with a bird flu problem, check with the European Centre for Disease Control and the Ministry of Health. Don’t visit places like poultry markets.
  6. Do not needlessly worry about consuming poultry and poultry products – note the point about letting the food reach a temperature of 70°C all the way through.

I was pleased by the flyer because I felt it was good, practical advice without any exaggeration or tone of panic. In fact, it seemed like it was meant to allay fears rather than stir them up.

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