CHICAGO—Top officials in Governor Rod R. Blagojevich’s administration, Colonel Jill Morgenthaler, Deputy Chief of Staff for Public Safety and Dr. Eric Whitaker, Director of Illinois Department of Public Health, today sent a letter to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) calling on them to release information about the recent cluster of human cases of avian influenza in northern Indonesia. The CDC is one of the major operating components of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
“Accurate information is vital. The Federal Government has a major responsibility to provide the states and the public timely, accurate and consistent information about avian influenza developments. The State needs the information to properly prepare its response for the protection of the public. More importantly, if the public has accurate information, people will be less likely panic and more likely take proper measures to limit the spread of the disease,” said Colonel Jill Morgenthaler, the Governor’s Deputy Chief of Staff for Public Safety.
The Blagojevich administration learned of the recent human cases of avian influenza in northern Indonesia through various news sources. To date, the Federal Government has not provided the state of Illinois with an official notification of these cases.
“State and local governments will be at the forefront of the nation's response to a pandemic influenza outbreak and it is imperative that we have the most current information to accurately communicate with the public about what is known and what is unknown. The recent lack of information regarding possible person-to-person transmission of avian flu among family members in Indonesia raises some serious concerns about the ability of the federal government to keep us informed of pandemic developments from throughout the world. It is imperative we have timely, accurate, consistent and appropriate information in order to build the public's trust and confidence in our ability to protect them from this emerging threat,” said Dr. Eric Whitaker, Director of Illinois Department of Public Health.
According to the HHS pandemic flu website, the federal agency has a responsibility to provide funding, advice, and other support to the states in order to assist with pandemic preparations.
Col. Morgenthaler and Dr. Whitaker stressed that failing to provide state governments with information about possible human transmission of the virus represents a problematic failure of the agency’s stated responsibility and could seriously hamper or delay states’ efforts to plan and prepare.
“Some scientists have speculated that an influenza pandemic could encircle the globe in as little as four to six weeks; possibly spreading even sooner to Illinois because of the direct overseas flights to O'Hare International Airport. Due to the potentially devastating consequences of a pandemic, we ask that the federal government ensure that the latest information flows to the states in a timely and efficient manner, so we can take the steps necessary to inform and protect the citizens of Illinois,” wrote Morgenthaler and Whitaker to federal officials.
CNN reported that eight Indonesian family members were infected with the H5N1 avian flu in May. Because none of the family members have been linked to contact with birds, this cluster may represent the first time the virus has been caused by human-to-human transmission, as said by the World Health Organization. The fact that the Federal Government did not inform public health organizations with this information before it became public knowledge raises concerns about how the state governments will be informed in an actual outbreak.
Avian influenza is a rapidly spreading viral disease that mainly affects birds including chickens, turkeys, pheasants, quail, ducks, geese and guinea fowl as well as a wide variety of other birds. Migratory birds are also known to carry the less infectious strains of AI viruses.
AI strains are divided into two groups: low pathogenicity (LP) or “low path” and high pathogenicity (HP) or “high path.” Low path avian influenza has existed in the United States since the early 1900’s and is commonly found. It can be fatal to birds but poses no threat to human health. High path avian influenza is the type currently affecting parts of Asia, Africa and Eastern Europe. These strains of disease in Asia have been transmitted from birds to humans. The disease is spread through nasal secretions and feces of infected birds. So far, only those in close contact with infected birds have contracted it. High path AI has been detected three times in the United States: 1924, 1983 and 2004. The 2004 outbreak was quickly confined to one flock and eradicated. There were no human illnesses reported in connection with these outbreaks.
Avian Flu can be prevented by avoiding direct contact with infected poultry or surfaces and objects contaminated by their feces. To date, most human cases have occurred in rural areas where many households keep small poultry flocks, which often roam freely, sometimes entering homes or sharing outdoor areas where children play. In the United States 95% of chicken and egg production occurs in henhouses.
Flock owners can avoid contracting or spreading the disease by practicing good biosecurity measures:
· Staying informed about the health of neighboring animals
· Not moving animals from farm to farm
· Keeping their flock away from wild birds
· Restricting unauthorized people and vehicles from the farm
· Disinfecting tires, equipment and clothing going on and off the farm
· Dispose of all dead animals properly
Attached is the text of the letter:
Dear Director Gerberding:
We are writing to express our dismay that neither the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services nor the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has shared information with us about a recent cluster of human cases of avian influenza in northern Indonesia. While health officials have yet to observe a mutation of the H5N1 virus in a way that would allow it to spread in an efficient and sustained manner between humans, this reported transmission between eight persons of the same family, six of whom have died, is a worrisome and potentially significant development.
We heard of these human cases of avian flu from CNN, the Associated Press and other news outlets in Illinois nearly two weeks ago, but still have not received any type of official notification from the federal health partners we rely on. At the same time, we have been repeatedly asked by the news media to speculate on whether these human cases might signal the start of a human pandemic and what impact they may have on Chicago, Illinois and the United States. As part of our approach to keep the public aware of the threat of pandemic flu, we actively encourage the Illinois media to seek us out when there are influenza developments here or around the world. However, in order to make this public education effort worthwhile, we must be able to speak with an informed voice.
Some scientists have speculated that an influenza pandemic could encircle the globe in as little as four to six weeks; possibly spreading even sooner to Illinois because of the direct overseas flights to O'Hare International Airport. Due to the potentially devastating consequences of a pandemic, we ask that the federal government ensure that the latest information flows to the states in a timely and efficient manner, so we can take the steps necessary to inform and protect the citizens of Illinois.
Jill Morgenthaler, Colonel
Deputy Chief of Staff, Public Safety
Eric E. Whitaker, M.D.
Illinois Department of Public Health