Could Avian Flu Come to America?

New Media Producer: Brad Maglinger

Flocks of chickens and ducks infected with the avian flu were found in six more Thai provinces. Ten million birds have been destroyed in an effort to stop the disease that's already taken two lives there. Both cases were traced back to contact with infected fowl, the only way the disease can be transmitted at this point.

"The reason that we do not have a lot of avian flu or bird flu here in America is because it's not spread from person to person," explains Dr. David Schultz. "We do have and FDA, a Food and Drug Administration that inspects imported food and so forth and makes sure such contaminated specimens do not enter into our food chain. It's when we have exposure to bird or fowl that we have to be concerned with and as long as we're doing the right things and right technique in our country. The incidence of avian flu or bird flu in this country should be minimal."

That is, if the virus doesn't change. Flu bugs that infect birds can also infect cells in pigs. If the same cell is infected by a flu virus from a human or another animal, the genetic material may mix, resulting in a new flu strain in which no one is immune.

Some fear a pandemic or world outbreak like the one in 1918 where 20 million people died from the flu. Many medical professionals believe it's not a question of if, but when. Yet, we can rest assured to some degree that things would be handled better in the 21st century.

"Certainly, with modern medicine, we should be more prepared to fight off a pandemic then we were in 1918. There were no antibiotics in 1918 and we have several antibiotics right now that can fight off secondary bacterial infections," states Dr. Schultz.

The bottom line here is safeguards are in place in the poultry industry to make sure no tainted fowl ever gets into this country. And at this point, we don't have to worry about anyone coming into this country who is sick because that person would not be able to spread the disease by him or herself.

So that's why the bird flu is not as big a threat to us as SARS or the common flu.

On the net: