RE: Bird Flu? Minn. Has A Plan
- Dear Friends,
Good thing Minnesota has a plan as...
Love and Light.
U.S. could leave states, towns on own in fighting flu
By Jeremy Manier, Tribune staff reporter. Tribune news services contributed to this report
Published November 3, 2005
State and local governments should be prepared to combat a flu pandemic largely on their own, according to a new federal pandemic response plan that instructs health agencies to prepare for a crush of up to 10 million hospitalized patients.
The plan, released Wednesday by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, provides the first detailed look at how governments and medical experts might deal with a flu pandemic.
Coming a day after President Bush announced $7.1 billion in funding requests for antiviral medication and other measures to prepare for an outbreak, the plan outlines which groups of patients and health care workers would get priority for vaccines and other drugs.
Although no one knows if or when a pandemic will occur, the report projects that a global outbreak would kill 209,000 to 1.9 million people in the U.S. Such a crisis could overwhelm hospitals with patients, forcing communities to set up overflow sites in school gymnasiums, armories or convention centers, according to the plan.
Many state agencies have eagerly awaited the plan in recent months as a strain of avian flu spread among birds and killed dozens of people in Southeast Asia. Such a virus, to which people have no natural immunity, could spark a pandemic if it mutates into a form that can spread from one person to another.
A unique disaster
"A pandemic is unique to all other natural disasters," Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt said Wednesday. Unlike hurricanes, which are deadly but contained in scope, "It's likely that a pandemic would be occurring in a thousand or more different locations in the country," he said.
That wide reach may mean that no part of the country would have the luxury of helping other hard-hit areas, as many communities did for victims of Hurricane Katrina.
The federal plan warns that in the worst case, "thousands of communities could be countering influenza simultaneously with little or no assistance from adjacent communities, the state, or the federal government."
In Illinois, where officials are putting together the state's own pandemic response plan, the federal document offers direction on issues such as who should get vaccines first in the event of an outbreak. The only vaccine available for the Asian bird flu strain is still experimental, but the U.S. government plans to buy enough of it to cover 20 million Americans in case of an outbreak.
The groups with top priority for receiving vaccines would be workers involved in manufacture of vaccine supplies and health care workers in direct contact with ill patients. After that, vaccines would go to people whose underlying health conditions put them at high risk of death from flu, especially the elderly. The next high-priority groups include pregnant women, emergency workers and key government leaders.
"We kind of anticipated that, but it's good to be able to put that in our plan," said Daniel Lee, pandemic response coordinator for the Illinois Department of Public Health.
`No cavalry coming'
The U.S. has been slow in developing a coordinated, national plan, said Eric Holdeman, director of the King County office of emergency management in Seattle. He said the new plan's focus on self-sufficiency by local governments is sobering.
"There is no cavalry coming to the rescue," Holdeman said.
The federal plan estimates that a pandemic on a moderate scale would mean $181 billion in health costs alone, not including losses from the probable disruption in trade.
The document draws distinctions between countermeasures that might be effective in the early stages of a pandemic and responses as an outbreak becomes better established. In the first phases the goal would be containment, involving everything from isolation of infected people to targeting entire communities with antiviral drugs. Ideally, such responses could stop an outbreak in Asia or elsewhere from ever spreading to the U.S. In some cases there might be quarantines of affected communities--though the plan points out that such measures likely would work only for isolated areas or very early in an outbreak.
In lieu of quarantines, the plan calls for cities to consider calling a series of "snow days," lasting 10 days or more, during which most people would stay home from work and avoid social gatherings.
The threat of a pandemic also spurred government action Wednesday in China, where officials ordered tighter monitoring for bird flu and more aggressive vaccine research. Chinese government officials said they would create a $250 million fund for anti-bird flu measures.
U.S. Deputy Undersecretary of Agriculture Charles Lambert met with Chinese agriculture and quarantine officials in Beijing and said the two governments would increase technical cooperation and information exchanges. He urged other nations to be cautious in banning poultry imports from countries with bird flu, saying excessive steps could discourage affected nations from reporting outbreaks.
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