Hawaii Begins Airport Watch for Bird Flu

Hawaii became the first state in the nation this week to monitor airports for signs of bird flu or other flu viruses, health officials said.

Passengers and visitors at Honolulu International Airport will not be required to submit to examinations but will be tested only voluntarily using nose or throat specimens taken at the airport clinic. Passengers could also be referred to the clinic by an airline or medical personnel.

Making flu testing available is expected to improve the state's ability to respond to any threat of a pandemic flu, according to Catherine Chow, a medical prevention officer for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Detailed passenger information will allow health officials to trace contacts and begin disease containment if necessary, she said.

The airport program began Monday under an agreement between the state Health Department and the medical center that operates the airport clinic.

A virulent strain of bird flu has devastated Asia's poultry flocks and killed at least 62 people since 2003. Most of the human deaths have been linked to close contact with infected birds, but experts fear the virus could mutate into a form that spreads from person to person.

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