The student health service will offer a flu vaccination clinic Oct. 25, but the shots won’t give protection from the Avian flu – nor do they need to.
The shots will be given from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Student Health and Counseling office. According to Mary Beth Collins, director of Student Health and Counseling, the charge will be $13 for students, $15 for faculty and staff. The staff will accept cash, check or can charge the shot to a student’s account.
As usual, the vaccine consists of three types of the virus considered the most likely to be encountered. The vaccine protects against two type-A and one type-B virus. It does not protect against the newest media fear factor, the avian flu. There is no pressing reason why it needs to, according to information supplied by Mark Bajorek, medical director of Student Health and Counseling.
“We’re going to be ready, we’re going to mobilize,” Bajorek said. But he compared the present concern about a potential deadly avian outbreak to the Y2K panic, when thousands feared that computer glitches at the beginning of the year 2000 would bring on widespread disasters.
“People were prepared for a red alert but nothing happened,” Bajorek said.
The flu vaccine availability this year is in stark contrast to last year, when early nation-wide shortages sent millions into near panic. The failure of one manufacturing source of vaccine resulted in long lines at pharmacies, which got first choice of supplies for the public.
Meantime, the nation’s media seem to have gone into hysteria mode over the fear of a killing pandemic of avian flu, or bird flu. An influenza pandemic is a global outbreak that occurs when a new influenza type-A virus appears or emerges in the human population and spreads easily from person to person.
The possibility of an avian flu pandemic was discussed by a member of the media in President George Bush’s press conference the first week of October. Almost instantly it became a hot property.
Last weekend, all three Portland network television stations ran features on the dangers of avian flu but there was scant evidence that it actually threatens the U.S. One station presented a commentator who said, “The question is not if, but when.” Another station pointed to avian flu fatalities in Hong Kong in 1997, giving the total deaths in this case at 60, not quite a cause for panic. The Centers for Disease Control reported the number of Hong Kong deaths at 18 hospitalized with six dead. In 2004, while a Vietnam outbreak reported 23 deaths.
The cable news channels joined the panic but revealed few actual cases in Asia, perhaps no more than 50 and not very recent. They had no visuals to accompany the scare stories. One channel showed a woman sorrowfully observing a collection of canary cages. Another showed a man stumbling among a flock of clucking domestic chickens. One cable channel quoted President Bush as saying vaccine will be stockpiled, omitting that a proven vaccine is not yet available.
Bajorek said a vaccine is being developed that is still in the test stages.
“Right now, we’re not seeing any outbreak,” he said.
One of the problems discussed on television was the economic drawback to developing a vaccine. It is expensive and a manufacturer could potentially invest millions in a vaccine and not sell a single dose.
The potential of an avian flu has been seen potentially comparable in deadliness to the 1918 Spanish flu.
The Spanish flu killed more than 600,000 people in the U.S. and up to 50 million people worldwide. The 1957 Asian flu caused about 70,000 U.S. deaths and the 1968 Hong Kong flu about 34,000 deaths in this country. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has collected evidence of suspected avian infections in 2003, 2004 and 2005 in various Asian countries as well as the Netherlands and Canada. As for infection of poultry, the CDC shows 16 outbreaks in U.S. poultry since 1997. Most of these outbreaks have been of a type of the virus that has low potential to spread and kill. When it appears in a flock, all the birds are destroyed.
“The Avian flu has actually been around a long time,” Bajorek said, “probably before 1918.” It is carried by migratory birds such as ducks, geese and terns. Sometimes these birds have come into contact with domestic birds such as chickens and infected the chickens. Poultry handlers have occasionally become infected. There are medicines that treat the disease by decreasing the symptoms or shortening the duration. Eye infections among Canadian poultry workers in 2004 were blamed on an avian-like infection.
In the 1950s, Bajorek recalled, the avian struck poultry in Texas and 6,600 chickens had to be destroyed. If any humans become infected, it is crucial that such cases be detected and treated immediately before family members are infected.
The virus as it exists may mutate, as viruses do, and pose a more dangerous threat. The greatest potential, he said, is that the virus could be brought in on airplanes from abroad carrying infected people.
“We’re monitoring what’s going on in Hong Kong,” he continued.
Meantime, Bajorek urged students to protect themselves against infection from colds, flu or avian flu, should it appear.
“First be aware that it’s out there,” he said. “Cover your mouth and wash your hands. It’s amazing how useful that is.”
SHAC has rapid screening tests for current types of influenza, which are characterized by fevers above 102 degrees along with body aches. There have been no flu cases yet on campus, Bajorek said. The flu season is not yet here.
Bajorek pointed to a CDC list of those who should not be vaccinated for the flu. These include persons allergic to chicken eggs, persons with a previous severe reaction to vaccination, people with Guillain-Barre syndrome and children under 6 months in age. Persons who are ill with fever should wait for a shot until symptoms lessen.