Researchers Warn Floridians of Bird Flu Danger

That discovery is significant because the 1918 virus is similar to avian flu viruses that are now sweeping Asia. Experts say the new information will help Florida prepare and respond should a deadly Bird Flu outbreak come our way.

The Bird Flu outbreak in Asia is not threatening humans in the U.S. yet, but the discovery of the link to birds in the 1918 flu pandemic shows it could.

Dr. Bob Brooks is an Infectious Disease Specialist at Florida State University’s School of Medicine. He says Florida would be particularly vulnerable if the current strain became more like the highly contagious 1918 strain because so many people travel here from Asia.

"We could certainly be one of the early states to get hit hard if this were to get into a pandemic situation. The second issue of course is that we have an elderly population in Florida who tend to be more susceptible,” Dr. Brooks says.

At this point there has been only one case of human-to-human transmission of the Avian Flu outbreak in Asia. The other 100 or so cases have been bird to human.

But the Florida Health Department says the state is well-prepared should the Avian Flu become more contagious like its deadly predecessor. Spokesman Doc Kokol says Florida has experts from the National Centers for Disease Control at every international entry point in Florida, as well as others who also know what to watch for and how to respond.

"We have a very strong and robust surveillance system.
We have sentinel physicians who look for unusual disease that they report to the Department of health,” Kokol says.

Researchers hope the breakthrough discovery on the causes of the 1918 pandemic will help them prevent any repeat of the killer flu in this Century.

President Bush is meeting with top drug manufacturers Friday at the White House to urge them to come up with a Bird Flu vaccine.

Congress plans to budget billions of dollars to build a stockpile of the drugs.