San Francisco prepares worst case scenario for avian flu pandemic
By Pat Murphy
November 17, 2005
San Francisco is preparing for an avian flu pandemic although
officials reported yesterday that the current virus is extremely
difficult for humans to contract.
Need to prepare for a pandemic lies in possibility the current
strain may transmute into an easily contagious human virus.
China yesterday announced its first avian flu death, a 24-year-old
Anhui province woman who worked in the poultry industry. It was
the 65th death worldwide with deaths so far constrained to South
East Asia. A nine-year-old boy in Hunan province recovered from
the illness, China reported Wednesday.
With the exception of two cases, all 127 people who contracted
the virus worked in close contact with poultry, Dr. Susan Fernyak
said in a City Hall press conference. Fernyak is city director
of city Communicable Diseases Control and heads up San
Francisco's Avian/Pandemic Influenza Task Force.
However, the two cases which may have contracted the virus from
other humans both also were in close contact with poultry, she
Dr. Susan Fernyak oversees multi-agency preparation for worst
case scenario, with Dr. S. Marshall Isaacs of the San Francisco
Fire Department at left, who also serves as a clinical professor
of medicine at UC-SF; and Dr. Mitch Katz, director of the San
Francisco Health Department.
"All of these people were infected in very rural areas of
Asia and Viet Nam and Indonesia and Cambodia where there isn't
really great health care," stated Fernyak.
There is no danger in eating poultry if it is properly cooked,
The city's health director explained danger of the virus becoming
The avian flu virus has not been seen in humans prior to current
outbreak leaving people without natural immunities to the illness,
said Dr. Mitch Katz. Should it become more contagious a world
pandemic might occur, he explained. Shown from left are San Francisco
International Airport director of community affairs Michael C.
McCarron, Fernyak, and Isaacs.
"To me the importance of us being here
is there is
a risk this particular virus will change," Katz said.
"I don't think that people are concerned with what will
happen with this particular virus if it never genetically changes,
because as it stands now it's not a very communicable disease.
The virus is not of any great danger.
"Unfortunately the history of viruses of this type is they
over time make genetic changes.
"Those genetic changes sometimes result in them becoming
much more contagious.
"Because this particular virus has not previously been in
humans none of us have any level of immunity to it, so were this
particular virus to make a genetic change such that it became
transmissible easily to humans we could have a worldwide pandemic.
"What people need to know is that their health department
is making sure that if there were a change in this virus and this
virus did become more transmissible then we are prepared to isolate
people, to quarantine people, and to the extent that we have Tamilu,
which is the drug which we believe has some efficacy against this
virus, to treat people the best we can," Katz explained.
It could be ineffective and possibly dangerous for private citizens
to hoard Tamiflu, Fernyak pointed out.
"We absolutely do not recommend stockpiling at home with
this drug," she insisted.
"First of all we don't even know if this drug works against
the avian flu, and secondly
we're concerned that people will
begin taking this drug just whenever they have a cold or feel
like they have the flu and then they may develop resistance to
it, and then for sure it won't work.
The mayor spoke of myths surrounding the virus.
San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom
"Most alarmingly, people are saying 'I was told I shouldn't
be going to Chinatown. Nothing could be farther from the truth,"
" 'I was told I should be eating poultry.' Nothing could
be farther from the truth.
"There's a lot of myth out there that's getting in the way
of hard evidence and facts.
that this a very important message to tell
people: not to fear the unknown, but know that we are focused
on the hypothetical, and if indeed this thing does mutate
this city is prepared to the extent that can be and that we're
taking this very seriously.
"At the same time people shouldn't panic. People shouldn't
worry too much. People shouldn't be going around the streets with
"They should feel very confident and very safe."
The Avian/Pandemic Task Force is comprised of the Police Department,
Fire Department, Sheriff's Department, Department of Human Resources,
San Francisco International Airport, Department of Public Works,
the Port, Recreation and Parks Department, San Francisco Public
Utilities Commission, Human Services Department, MUNI, Department
of Parking and Traffic, Emergency Communications Department, Office
of Emergency Services, and the Mayor's Office.
The Task Force is responsible for staying updated and informed
the current situation with avian influenza and its potential to
evolve into a pandemic state; ensure that each department or agency
is working to develop their own response plans; and finally, to
ensure that all plans are coordinated citywide.
It will be meeting every two to four weeks for the next several
For more information, visit www.sfcdcp.org,
or telephone 415-554-2905.