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March 14, 2006

Bird Flu In The U.S. Will Begin A Race Against Time

Topics: Health Issues

President Bush asked Congress for $7.1 billion to fund preparations for a potential bird flu pandemic, and in December 2005 Congress appropriated $3.8 billion to help the Nation prepare. Of that, $3.3 billion was allocated to HHS. It wasn't enough!

Yesterday, the Department of Health and Human Services issued it's comprehensive update on H5N1 preparations in the U.S. It begins with a sobering introduction:

We are in a race. We are in a race against a fast moving virulent virus with the potential to cause an influenza pandemic. In November when President Bush announced the National Strategy for Pandemic Influenza, the highly
pathogenic H5N1 avian flu virus was confirmed in birds in 16 countries. It was known to have infected 122 people and 62 - half of those infected - died.

Today, four months later, H5N1has spread to 37 nations on three continents; 175 people have been infected and 96
of them have died. To date, most of those people were exposed to infected poultry. Fortunately, there has been no
sustained human-to-human transmission of the disease, but the rapid spread of H5N1 is reason for concern.

We are in a race, a race against a quick changing virus, for H5N1 has not only spread, it has evolved. There are now two main
variants, or clades, of H5N1 and it is this second, newer clade that is spreading across western Asia into Europe, the Middle East and Africa. This second clade has killed over 60 percent of those it is known to have infected.

Let me be very clear. It is only a matter of time before we discover H5N1 in birds in America. The migration patterns of the wild birds that carry the virus make its appearance here almost inevitable.

The arrival of the first H5N1 bird America should not be cause for alarm or panic. It does not mean that a pandemic is at our doorstep. It should, however, motivate us to pick up the pace, to renew pandemic preparations on every front and at every level.

The update goes on to tell us that our first line of defense is early detection, and that it is critical that we know
immediately if the H5N1 influenza virus becomes capable of sustained human-to-human transmission. As it suggests, early detection will give us the opportunity to respond, to attempt containment and to quickly gain the virus samples necessary for the development of a true pandemic vaccine. And, yes, early detection is a race against time, and containing or slowing an influenza pandemic demands that a nascent outbreak anywhere in the world be recognized and confirmed within 1 to 2 weeks.

Our problem lies in the fact that the clock is likely to already be ticking long before we're aware that the countdown has already begun. Be sure and read the entire HHS update

Hat tip - Hugh Hewitt

Mar 2006 - Cat in Germany dies from Bird Flu
Mar 2006 - Bahamas Bird Deaths Raise Fears Bird Flu Has Reached Americas
Feb 2006 - Bird flu reaches Italy and Greece
Jan 2005 - Vietnam reports two more bird flu deaths: CDC says an influenza pandemic possible with high rates of illness and death
Jan 2005 - It Just Keeps Coming: Bird flu fears hit tsunami-wrecked region
Oct 2005 - Bird Flu on Similar Evolutionary Path as 1918 Killer Virus (Has human to human transmission ALREADY OCCURRED?) Updated
Dec 2004 - Bird Flu(Avian Influenza) Outbreak Fears Spark Action - Up To 100 Million People Could Die

Posted by Richard at March 14, 2006 12:20 PM

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