Bird flu and ways to prevent pandemic are very much on the minds of world leaders — including President Bush — who have put the topic on the agenda during this week's Asian-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in South Korea.

But while a survey of Utahns shows concern about avian flu, most aren't changing their plans. The majority, in fact, haven't had a flu shot against the influenza that is already here.

The APEC meeting this week is expected to include agreement for an early warning system in case of outbreaks of bird flu. Bird flu has killed more than 60 people in Asia since 2003.

That's far fewer than the 36,000 Americans who die each year from regular influenza, which also sends about 200,000 Americans, most of them elderly or ill, to the hospital. But worldwide concern centers around what would happen if avian flu changed dramatically, something that can cause pandemic — widespread contagion and death.

In the poll conducted by Dan Jones and Associates for the Deseret Morning News and KSL-TV, some 46 percent of Utahns who were asked said they are "somewhat concerned" about the spread of avian flu. Another 19 percent are "very" concerned. The numbers are nearly identical when they were asked if they fear bird flu could be coming to Utah.

The Nov. 10-12 poll, which had 400 participants, has an error margin of plus or minus 5 percent.

But of those who counted themselves "very" or "somewhat" concerned, only 10 percent said it would affect their traditional holiday meal menu — 3 percent "definitely" and 7 percent "probably."

That concern has been raised because some domesticated birds, including chickens, ducks and turkeys, may become very sick with avian flu. The CDC reports that "most cases of bird flu infections in humans have resulted from contact with infected poultry or contaminated surfaces."

More than half (53 percent) of the Utahns polled said they have not yet had a flu shot this year, although sporadic flu activity has been confirmed in the state already this year. Another 14 percent say they still intend to get one, while one-third say they already have been vaccinated against influenza this season.

As for avian flu, should a vaccine be developed quickly and fast-tracked, as officials hope, the majority of those polled don't plan to roll up their sleeves in a hurry. While 23 percent probably would get the fast-tracked shot and another 7 percent definitely would, 66 percent said they either probably or definitely would not.

Meanwhile, companies are working to develop vaccines against bird flu. Tests of one that has been designed to protect humans from the H5N1 subtype of bird flu began in April. Scientists are trying to develop a vaccine against another subtype, H9N2, as well.

Officials are also trying to bolster stockpiles of antiviral medications that may help combat influenza, including bird flu. But the H5N1 avian flu virus that is now infecting Asian birds and that has caused human illness and death is resistant to two popular antiviral medications used for flu, amantadine and rimantadine, the CDC says.

Two other antiviral medications, oseltamavir (Tamiflu) and zanamavir, "would probably work to treat flu caused by the H5N1 virus, though studies still need to be done to prove that they work," says the CDC.

Governments around the world are reportedly stockpiling those antivirals, and Bush has announced plans to buy enough of them to provide to first responders should an uncontrolled outbreak occur.


E-mail: lois@desnews.com