State Prepares For Possible Avian Flu Pandemic

Lt. Governor Duke Aiona
Lt. Governor Duke Aiona

HONOLULU (KHNL) - A new study says Hawaii could loose billions of dollars -- and thousands of lives -- if we are hit by a severe bird flu pandemic. The report says states that rely on tourism and entertainment for much of their economy would be the hardest hit during an avian flu pandemic. Nevada and Hawaii are at the top of that list.

The report from "The Advocacy Group Trust for America's Health" finds that Hawaii's economy could see a decline of $4 billion during a flu pandemic. It's estimated 10,000 people could die and 365,000 could become sick just in Hawaii.

State officials responded quickly and they say they're serious about avian flu education. They've already approved $6.5 million in funding. They say they're doing all they can to minimize the impact should a case of bird flu show up here.

Hawaii is the gateway to Asia and a popular tourist destination.

"It's beautiful," said Millie Johnson, who is visiting for the first time with her family from Alaska. "The people are really friendly and the sun is wonderful."

"It's been great," said Brian Lemercier, a frequent visitor from Canada. "Great weather."

A new study says Hawaii could be one of the hardest hit, should an avian flu pandemic reach the U.S. It prompts state officials to announce an aggressive educational program.

"Our campaign will focus on what we as individuals need to do in being prepared and ready for any type of emergency," said Lieutenant Governor James "Duke" Aiona.

It will educate the public on avian flu, and make preparedness everyone's responsibility.

"So what we're trying to do in this prevention piece is to educate people about what it's going to take to contain this disease," said Dr. Chiyome Fukino, director of the Hawaii department of health.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has a system in place with international airline carriers and cruise ships to identify potential risks.

"It's not a guarantee that no disease will come in but it is an attempt to get early warning that something is here," said Dr. Fukino.

Tourists in Waikiki say they are concerned.

"It is something that is in the back of my mind, obviously because I have a family," said Johnson.

But unless it turns into a world wide pandemic, they say they'll continue to come back.

"We love it here," said Lemercier. "We've been here numerous times and will keep coming."

The public awareness campaign will start next week in the form of pamphlets, and radio and TV ads. Again, officials say the goal is to make prevention everyone's responsibility.