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Local officials prepare for bird flu

te and federal authorities to prepare for a possible bird flu pandemic.

Should we be worried? No. But should we prepare? Yes, Karen Nelson, Wadena County Public Health director said about the avian flu.

Historically, the flu hasnt taken long to spread.

When the 1918 Spanish flu arrived in Minnesota, it took only eight days to spread across the state, Nelson said.

And today, people travel so much more that it would probably take less time, she said.

Avian flu is a strain of flu that has infected birds. In some cases in Asian countries, the bird flu has spread to humans through direct contact with infected birds. So far, the virus hasnt spread between humans, but the fear is the virus will evolve and eventually spread from human to human, Nelson said.

Locally, a joint public health preparedness, emergency management and emergency medical services meeting is scheduled for 3:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. April 19. The public is welcome.

Also, Nelson said she would like to meet in April with local grocery stores to make plans for home delivery of food in case of a pandemic.

One of the states requirements during a pandemic is that were responsible to make available essential services for those in quarantine, Nelson said.

Public health doesnt need to provide or pay for these essential services but needs to make sure services are available.

Already, Nelson has attended several meetings locally and regionally to discuss avian flu preparedness.

Nationally, Centers for Disease Control has determined that states need to revise pandemic flu plans specific to avian flu, Nelson said. The federal government is giving states $100 million to work on pandemic flu plans. Minnesota will receive $1.7 million to work on these plans, but the state hasnt decided how to distribute the money yet, Nelson said.

The World Health Organization has just reclassified avian flu as an airborne infection, Nelson said. It had spread only through contact, she said.

The reclassification changes the precautions people should take, Nelson said. Minnesota will buy $2 million worth of masks that will give protection from those who are infected. The masks stop incoming germs. Usually, air masks are worn so medical professionals dont spread germs to patients, Nelson said.

Nelson said a planning drill will be this fall on a statewide level.

The public can prepare for a pandemic at home.

Nelson suggests having a preparedness kit at home that would include essential items such as water, food and other supplies.

The American Red Cross suggests the following items on its Web site,

" water

" food

" medications and special items

" tools and supplies

" sanitation

" clothing and bedding

" emergency car kit

" important family documents

" first aid kit

Every family should also have a communications plan in place, Nelson said. This plan will include where each person should go in case of an emergency and have contact information. Each family member will keep a card with this information, Nelson said.

Most importantly, people should be prepared to take care of themselves in a pandemic, Nelson said.

In a pandemic, everyone will be sick and there wouldnt be enough people to help everyone, she said. Plan to take care of yourself.