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South and West Maui’s Urgent Care. Our family physicians provide fast, effective, urgent care treatment at two Maui locations.

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Doctors on Call — Bird flu… Where are we and do we need to worry?

Doctors on Call — Bird flu… Where are we and do we need to worry?

By Dr. Norm Estin, Medical Director of Doctors On Call Urgent Care

Wow. We are just getting over reeling from coronavirus (COVID), and now we start to see and hear about the Avian or Bird Flu. There is a new story daily. What gives? Should we be concerned?

First, a little background. This Avian Flu or Bird Flu, scientifically known as the H5N1 type of influenza virus, was first detected in some poultry in Asia is 1996. The poultry got sick and some of the workers got very sick also. Since then, this strain of virus has spread around the world and infected millions of various birds and dozens of types of other animals as well. There have been many news reports about infected cattle in at least nine of the United States, especially in Texas. 

The problem is that this virus, like many viruses and other germs, can spread to humans. A few USA workers in dairy and cattle industries have been affected.

It is very difficult to catch this virus from infected animals without frequent close direct physical contact. Also, there has been no documented person-to-person spread in this country. And the virus has not yet evolved or mutated to the point where humans are easily affected.

At this point, it is mostly an animal health issue. The CDC and other Federal agencies have a surveillance system in place to pick up any indications of spread. The danger here is if the the virus evolves or mutates in a way that it can more easily spread both to people and between people.

On Maui and in the whole state of Hawaiʻi, we are fortunate—the virus has not reached here; no bird flu has yet been detected in any species of birds or animals. But as a precaution, Hawaiʻi is not importing any cattle from areas on the mainland where the virus has been found.

So the current recommendations for those of us here on Maui, both residents and visitors, are simply:

  1. Avoid exposure to sick or dead birds or other animals, and wear PPE (respirators, goggles, gloves, etc) if in direct contact with them.
  2. Eventually, do not prepare or consume unpasteurized or undercooked foods from potentially contaminated animals.
  3. Otherwise, there is no risk to the general public here right now.

There is a vaccine, and about 5 million doses have been stocked up. More specific vaccines for new variants are being worked on rapidly, and may be available by the end of summer. No vaccination or other specific action is recommended right now.

Op-ed taken from MauiNow

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