A deadly "bird flu" virus in Hong Kong...


December 31, 1997

THE OUTBREAK OF a deadly "bird flu" virus in Hong Kong -- which that territory rightly attempted to contain Monday by slaughtering virtually its entire poultry population -- is of extreme concern in Asia. It is of great interest to medical researchers worldwide, since this appears to mark the first time avian flu has been transmitted directly from birds to humans.

Americans, however, need not worry. At this time, experts say there is no reason to fear domestic chickens, live or processed, or to believe we are on the cusp of a worldwide epidemic.

From the small number of people infected in Hong Kong -- 13 are known to have had the flu, including four who died -- this does not appear to be a particularly infectious strain of virus, says Dr. Diane Griffin of the Johns Hopkins School of Hygiene and Public Health. There seems little chance an infected person would travel to the U.S. and spread the disease, or that someone from another country would get the flu in Hong Kong and carry it elsewhere.

In the Baltimore area, the types of influenza doctors are seeing are similar to those they saw last year. There has been, and continues to be, no sign of a radical new strain since 1968.

Moreover, since the U.S. does not import chicken, it would be all but impossible for our birds to "catch" the flu from fowl thousands of miles across the ocean. Indeed, this outbreak should not discourage Americans from eating chicken or other poultry. Even in Hong Kong, the danger comes not from cooked chicken but from live birds; people there prefer to buy chickens live and kill and pluck them at home.

This new bird flu must be watched. It must be studied. But for Americans to give up chicken sandwiches, turkey drumsticks and trips to the children's petting zoo based on what has happened in Hong Kong would be unnecessary and foolish.

Pub Date: 12/31/97

Hong Kong's 'bird flu'; No need for panic: Foreign outbreak no reason for Americans to eschew poultry.

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