When it comes to avian influenza – or bird flu – on the South Coast, the question is “not if, but when,” health officials told Santa Barbara County supervisors on Tuesday. Considering Center for Disease Control (CDC) predictions of up to 36,000 deaths statewide from the disease, the board directed staff to hire a bird flu expert to oversee the county’s plans of action and coordinate their implementation when necessary. The county also plans to develop a public system to disseminate information about the disease. According to the CDC, there have been 191 known cases of human bird flu in the past three years worldwide; 108 of these resulted in death. While the disease has yet to arrive on U.S. soil, experts anticipate it will show up in the next few months, probably in Alaska. Bird flu has not yet mutated into a virus communicable between humans, which would make it a true pandemic.

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