Skip to comments.Administration mobilizes to prepare U.S. for possible pandemic
Posted on 10/16/2005 6:13:36 PM PDT by mdittmar
WASHINGTON - The Bush administration is scrambling to prepare the nation for a possible global rampage by a new flu germ that it fears could kill nearly 2 million Americans, sicken tens of millions more and shatter the economy.
The key question is how much preparation can be done before a calamity strikes that, in a worst-case scenario, could make the health system collapse; overwhelm morgues; close schools, airports and harbors; end public gatherings; require strict quarantines; and cripple businesses and vital public services by mass absenteeism.
"You're looking at a nation-busting event," warned Tara O'Toole, director of the Center for Biosecurity at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.
To be sure, it may not happen. But scientists warn that it's frighteningly possible and that governments at all levels must prepare for the worst.
Whether such a catastrophe occurs depends upon whether the H5N1 influenza virus now slaughtering birds across Asia and parts of Europe mutates into a form that retains lethal virulence and passes easily among humans. So far it hasn't, and the virus has been around since 1997. But viruses mutate constantly, and most experts agree that the world is statistically overdue for a pandemic.
"We must plan for a worst-case scenario," said Michael Osterholm, a public health expert and former adviser to the Department of Health and Human Services, which is leading U.S. preparations.
The federal government could take steps to mitigate the impact of a pandemic, experts agree. They include:
-Working with state and local officials to bolster the ability of hospitals and other health care providers to cope with floods of infected patients requiring isolation;
-Ordering enough Tamiflu, an expensive antiviral drug made by only one firm that alleviates flu symptoms and may even prevent infection, to cover at least 25 percent of the U.S. population;
-Creating a crash program to rapidly mass-produce and distribute a vaccine as soon as a pandemic-causing germ is isolated and its genetic properties analyzed so that a vaccine can be designed.
HHS is expected to release a long-awaited pandemic preparedness plan as early as this week outlining such measures.
Osterholm, who's familiar with the plan's latest draft, said it projects a worst-case scenario that kills as many as 1.9 million Americans and sickens half the population of 294 million.
The plan acknowledges that state and local officials would have to manage much of the response, such as ensuring food supplies, he said. Other aspects would take time and an estimated $6 billion to $10 billion to implement.
HHS Secretary Michael Leavitt conceded earlier this month that the United States remains unprepared for a pandemic ignited by any new germ that the human immune system isn't programmed to fight.
"We could be battling 5,000 different fronts at the same moment," Leavitt told an Oct. 6-7 international conference called by the United States to boost international cooperation on early pandemic detection and containment.
A number of other countries are ahead of the United States in preparedness. Britain finalized its plan in March, has created a Cabinet-level coordinating office, ordered enough Tamiflu for 25 percent of its population and put in place a system for rapidly producing and distributing a vaccine once one is developed.
Critics complain that the Bush administration has ordered only enough Tamiflu to cover less than 2 percent of the U.S. population, despite a 2000 recommendation by the U.N. World Health Organization that governments cover at least 25 percent.
Swiss-based Hoffmann-LaRoche, the sole maker of Tamiflu, says that with 25 other countries ahead of it, the United States must wait until the end of 2007 to buy enough of the drug to cover 25 percent of its population.
The Infectious Diseases Society of America says even that isn't enough; it wants HHS to stockpile enough Tamiflu to treat 50 percent of the U.S. public.
The Senate voted Sept. 29 to provide $3.9 billion for the purchase of more Tamiflu and other items for the Strategic National Stockpile, a federal reserve of medicines and materials that would be distributed during a major health emergency when local supplies are exhausted.
Experts say immediate preparations also must be taken to bolster hospitals' abilities to cope with massive numbers of patients suffering respiratory problems and other life-threatening symptoms. Many parts of the United States have serious shortages of doctors, nurses and equipment; many are stretched thin even by annual bouts of ordinary influenza.
In a pandemic, even the best-staffed facilities would lack personnel, machines such as ventilators, beds and space to isolate patients.
Since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, more than $2 billion in federal funds have been spent improving hospitals' capacity to deal with mass casualties caused by terrorists using biological weapons, such as anthrax.
But experts say preparations for such attacks, which would be limited to a few locations, are insufficient for a pandemic that would hit many cities and states nearly simultaneously.
An additional complication: Seeking hospital care would be a double-edged option, as they would be the places where it would be easiest to contract influenza. So public-education programs will be needed to ensure that only the very sickest are brought to hospitals, experts said.
Washington must also work with state and local officials on other ways to contain a pandemic, such as guidelines for closing schools and banning public gatherings.
Another recommendation: Federal, state and local governments should encourage employers to help stricken employees stay home, such as developing ways to compensate them if they miss work.
"We have people ... who are living paycheck to paycheck and they don't want to report that they have a communicable disease," said Archer of the Kansas City Health Department. "Parents can't get off work to watch their kid, so they take them to a day care center ... and the disease spreads."
Some in Congress are calling for appointment of a Cabinet-level coordinator to work with HHS and an alphabet soup of federal agencies in partnership with state and local governments.
The federal government also should order a crash program to develop, mass-produce, license and distribute an influenza vaccine, which can be designed only when a lethal virus is isolated, experts said. But only three companies produce conventional influenza vaccines for sale in the United States and only 50 million to 60 million doses per year.
"This is probably the biggest gaping hole in all of this," said Kim Elliott, deputy director of Trust for America's Health, a nonprofit health policy organization. She said it would probably require 600 million doses - two for every American - to protect the population against avian flu.
The federal government, she said, should provide incentives such as tax breaks and the guaranteed purchase of a set amount of vaccine to encourage drug companies to expand their manufacturing capacity.
The Bush administration also should push legislation to protect vaccine producers and health care workers from liability lawsuits in case a rapidly produced and tested vaccine causes adverse reactions in people, experts said.
During the months between detecting a pandemic and production of a vaccine, health authorities will have to rely on other measures to limit the impact, including using Tamiflu and other antivirals to prevent infections.
The government will have to decide who should get priority in receiving the limited amounts of antivirals and initial batches of vaccine, experts said, warning that panic over unavailable supplies could ignite riots.
Inquiring minds want to know,and FR has the best minds.
Media sensationalism. I guess it is possible for this pandemic and government should take some measures to prepare but we all know how the media blows things up. Remember SARS? Victims only have a 98% chance of surviving that deadly virus.
SARS, Y2K, etc, etc.
I don't want to sound like I don't believe the MSM and the federal govt. BUT I DON'T.
I keep up to date on what is happening, (Thanks FREEREPUBLIC) and I just don't see this as a major issue. MSM is in the business to sell ad space. With MSM, the truth is not necessary.
I wish the dimwits in DC would just do the right thing and outlaw the flu and even possibly outlaw death.
I'm gonna start crappin' on peoples' windshields and say the "bird flu" made me do it. It's gonna be fun, especially on those cars with the goofy lefty bumperstickers.
Best post of the night. ROTFLOL!
How about, 'California gearing up to survive a 9.0 quake.' Or, New Mexico gearing up to stop the massive influx of illegal aliens jumping the border.'
Or 'Louisiana gearing up to handle another Cat 5 Hurricane.' Or Wisconsin gearing up to gear down when gas pump prices reach the $5.00 per gallon mark.'
Early results tersting Tamiflu are showing it's not nearly as effective as first thought.
Cha-ching,I'll have to recheck my 401k,maybe I have some ROCHE stock.
Correct. Tamiflu is the best "General" antiviral drug available BUT, it will not be the "Silver Bullet" for whatever the Avian Flu mutates into. We won't know exactly what we are fighting until it shows itself..., then it will take months (at best) to develop and manufacture a SPECIFIC antiviral drug.
In any event, it can happen but when is a total unknown! At least it seems that Asis is fully on board now in recognizing the danger and will not hide an outbreak to "Save Face"...
It's never happened and I doubt it ever will.
A giant meteor could hit the earth and wipe us all out,it can happen but when is a total unknown!
I would think that regular hand washing would do as much to protect the population as a massive effort to create and distribute vaccinations.
They won't even be able to start production until people start dying, to find out what the mutation is.
In the meantime, eating well, adequate rest, fresh air and handwashing could reduce illness and deaths from regular old non-avian flu.
Good grief, how many people SURVIVED the 1918 flu without ANY special vaccinations???
The inquiring minds at FR are way ahead of you by many months. Check out...
1800+posts and it looks to be a media,drug company,enhanced crock of crap.
Every flu season a knew flu shows up,swine,bird,blah,blah,blah.
Flus make me sick;)
I got my tamiflu and relenza ready.. in my disaster kit...hubby wrote the prescriptions!
The millions that died in the 1918 "Spanish Flu" pandemic would be glad to here that! I personally had a Great-Grandfather and two Great-Uncles who died from that event.
I probably lost some distant ancestor eons ago from a meteor strike but..., that happens far less often!
The influenza pandemic of 1918 killed between 20 to 40 million people, worldwide. Approximately 675,000 Americans died of that flu. Recently, the 1918 flu was confirmed as an avian flu (done by DNA analysis of both old specimens and newly recovered frozen specimens of lung tissue of flu victims). So, that flu was an example of exactly what is feared now: an avian flu that mutated enough times to achieve human-to-human transmission. So that's how many people have died of a similar avian flu. Hope that answers your question.
Did you take the time to read some of it, perhaps the past few months' posts?
Practically nobody alive (except those who have already contacted it, over 50% of whom have died) has any immunity to this killer virus which is now spreading like wildfire among the world's wild and domestic bird populations. If it manages to mutate to an easily transmissible human-to-human form (it seems to be doing that as we speak) the end results could be catastrophic.
The Spanish Flu of 1918-19 was a similar type virus and was one of the largest disease killers in history. While it is possible the new H5N1 virus will not make the efficient jump to humans, most experts think it is more likely it will, probably soon. It seems to be doing so (or has done so) in several areas, such as Indonesia and possibly China.
This is not your normal flu "bug" which puts you in bed for a few days with misery and then you go on with life. This is an entirely new ball game, at least new to our generations. Our medical system is woefully inadequate and unprepared if it strikes within the next few years, despite all our wonderful medical technology - which is mostly ineffective against this virus. It is giving the experts nightmares with it's possibilities.
I recommend you read some of the referenced thread for your own knowledge, especially if you are going to make sweeping comments on the subject.
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