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Pandemic fears moderate, poll says Only half of Canadians believe authorities ready for possible outbreak, survey finds

Only half of Canadians believe authorities ready for possible outbreak, survey finds

The threat of an avian flu pandemic is just starting to hit the radar of Canadians, with six in 10 saying they are concerned about it, a new poll indicates.

However, that concern is somewhat modest, with only one out of five people saying they are very concerned, according to the poll done by the Strategic Counsel for The Globe and Mail and CTV.

"There's a sense of nervousness about the issue, but these are early days," Tim Woolstencroft, managing partner of the Strategic Counsel, said in a telephone interview yesterday. "High-risk people are more likely to be aware, as are more older people and women."

In addition to that early concern, not all Canadians seem convinced their governments are going to be able to handle avian flu, which has caused the death or destruction of at least 150 million birds and killed at least 61 people in Asia since 2003.

Specifically, 49 per cent of Canadians believe health authorities are very or somewhat prepared to deal with the avian influenza. Comparatively, 45 per cent felt the same authorities were not prepared, according to the poll.

"There's been a lot of media attention and there's some nervousness about the health authorities being ready," said Mr. Woolstencroft.

The poll surveyed 1,000 Canadians between Oct. 18 and 22 and is accurate to within 3.1 percentage points 95 per cent of the time.

Avian influenza H5N1, the strain experts say has the most potential to become a pandemic does not yet appear to be transmissible between humans. It has claimed another life in Thailand, where a 48-year-old man died after he slaughtered and ate an infected chicken.

The Public Health Agency of Canada estimates that a pandemic strain of influenza could leave as many as 10.6 million people in this country too sick to work, put as many as 138,000 in hospital and kill 11,000 to 54,000.

The poll showed that concern about avian influenza was lowest among those between the ages of 18 and 30, likely those who feel they would be least affected due to their health. Perhaps not surprisingly, it was higher among those aged 55 or older, likely for the opposite reason.

Concern was highest, however, among those who earned more than $100,000 annually, with 72 per cent of those with six-figure incomes having the greatest concerns.

Pollsters immediately looked to see if the explanation was due to an increased education, but that was not the case.

"People with higher incomes . . . have more to lose if they go off the job," Mr. Woolstencroft said. "And they're probably more risk adverse."

Also in the poll, fewer than half or 44 per cent of Canadians surveyed had heard a lot or something about oseltamivir phosphate, known by the trade name Tamiflu, an anti-viral medication that federal and provincial governments are stockpiling.

Infectious-disease specialists consider Tamiflu, an antiviral medication that attacks the influenza virus and stops it from spreading inside the body, to be the best defence. That's the case even though there is evidence that strains of the virus have grown resistant to it. It is commonly used in nursing homes during flu outbreaks and is given to patients after they get sick.

Although concern about avian flu is modest, Mr. Woolstencroft said it could grow.

No doubt, the Canadian public has heard more since this poll was taken, given the meeting yesterday and today of health ministers from around the world who are in Ottawa discussing pandemic preparations.

Containing avian flu

The European Union says its bird flu experts will discuss a possible ban on imports of wild birds into the 25-nation bloc today. The EU has so far resisted calls to ban all pet bird imports, fearing it could create a black market that could increase the threat of infected birds being smuggled in.

Other avian flu developments yesterday:

Indonesia's Agriculture Minister said the country will revise laws that have been used to prevent health authorities from investigating suspected bird flu outbreaks in commercial poultry farms. When the deadly H5N1 strain first appeared in Indonesia two years ago, the country's 11 biggest poultry producers blocked access to their farms, hampering efforts to fight the virus. Bird flu has killed three people in Indonesia.

Russia's Emergency Situations Ministry has confirmed bird flu in another central region. Seventy birds in the village of Yuzhny in the Tambov region, about 400 kilometres southeast of Moscow, have the disease, ministry spokeswoman Veronika Smolskaya said. Eight of the birds died and 48 were slaughtered in the past day, the Interfax news agency reported.

Bird flu devastated flocks in several regions in Siberia and the Urals during the summer, and last week it hit a village about 320 kilometres south of Moscow. Preliminary tests confirmed the poultry there had been infected with the H5N1 strain, and authorities culled all 3,000 birds in the village.

Indian drug maker Cipla Ltd. said it could produce 50,000 doses of the anti-influenza drug Tamiflu a month starting early next year, as it pressed Roche of Switzerland for a licence to manufacture a generic version of the drug.

Roche has agreed to share its licence for Tamiflu with other drug companies and has promised to give 30 million capsules, free of charge, to the World Health Organization, said WHO's director general Dr. Lee Jong-wook.

Sweden said one of four ducks found dead in an area west of Stockholm Friday was infected with bird flu, but not the deadly H5N1 strain.

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