Bird flu campaign to target 1.4m households

By Errol Kiong, Martin Johnston

Households throughout the country will be told how to prepare for a bird flu pandemic in a nationwide letterbox drop.

The Herald understands the Ministry of Health is planning to send out brochures with a covering letter and fact sheet to 1.4 million households in March.

The brochures will contain information on setting up emergency kits, hygiene and guides for those working from home or running a business, should a pandemic strike.

The H5N1 bird flu affecting Asia and parts of Europe cannot spread easily between humans, but health authorities fear it could change to do so, causing a global pandemic.

The mail drop is designed to complement print, radio and television advertising, which will run at the same time. Radio advertising started this week on public broadcaster National Radio. The ministry announced late last year it was searching for a public face to front public service messages on bird flu.

The cost of the publicity campaign depends on details which are days from being finalised.

The move signifies that awareness-raising activities are shifting into a higher gear. Paid advertising and a detailed website started late last year.

Acting director of public health Dr Ashley Bloomfield would not confirm a mail drop, but said further activities for raising awareness were likely to include more paid advertising, updates to the website and 0800 number, and "possibly" a nationwide letterbox drop.

It is aimed at getting "consistent and useful messages" out to people in as many ways as possible.

The Herald understands the brochure will be virtually identical to one already on the ministry's website.

Sydney virologist Professor Bill Rawlinson said yesterday that overall it was a good brochure for widespread public use. Its only omission, said the Prince of Wales Hospital professor, was not urging people to see a doctor if they suspected pandemic flu infection - important so patients could discuss the use of anti-viral medicine Tamiflu, which they needed to take within 30 hours of symptoms starting.

But he noted Tamiflu was mentioned on the website on the brochure.

* The Herald begins a non-alarmist flu pandemic guide tomorrow. If you have any questions you want answered, email the newsdesk using the link below.

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