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FOR RELEASE: May 5 , 2006
CONTACT: Pamela Williams
Office of Communications
405/271-5601

OR: Jack Carson
Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry
405/522-4575

Bird Flu Movie Prompts State Health and Agriculture Concerns

Officials at the Oklahoma State Department of Health and the Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry expressed concern today about an upcoming made-for-television network movie on bird flu in America. The movie, which is a work of fiction, not a documentary, follows an outbreak of the H5N1 avian flu virus from its origins in a Hong Kong market to its mutation as a pandemic virus that is spread from person to person around the world.

“While the movie may be helpful in raising awareness about avian and pandemic influenza, we hope it will inspire preparation and not panic,” said State Health Commissioner Dr. Michael Crutcher. “We want to remind Oklahomans that there is no influenza pandemic anywhere in the world at this time.”

Crutcher said that the highly pathogenic H5N1 avian influenza virus has not been identified in North America, but it is possible that migratory birds infected with the virus will be found on the continent in the coming months. “Even so, this will not signal the start of a human pandemic,” he emphasized. “Avian influenza, or bird flu, is not the same thing as pandemic flu. The H5N1 bird flu virus would have to mutate, or change its form, to become a pandemic flu virus and although this could happen, we don’t know for certain that it will happen.”

“This is both an animal issue as well as a public health issue,” said State Agricultural Commissioner Terry Peach. “Even if avian flu is detected in wild birds, it does not mean the virus will reach commercial poultry operations or affect human health. Our department and the poultry industry have active biosecurity and surveillance programs to protect both commercial and backyard flocks.”

While the H5N1 virus has not yet appeared in the United States and an influenza pandemic is not considered imminent at this time, Crutcher recommends that all Oklahomans become informed about pandemic influenza and begin now to plan accordingly. There are several steps that individuals, families and communities can take to prepare, like keeping a supply of food and medicines on hand and practicing good public health measures like frequent hand washing and staying home when sick.

To learn more about how to prepare for pandemic influenza, check out these Web sites: www.pandemicflu.gov or www.health.ok.gov. For more information about avian influenza, visit www.usda.gov or www.okgov/~okag/.

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