Bush sets strategy for dealing with flu pandemic

President Bush today announced a $7.1 billion national strategy to prepare for a flu pandemic and, if it becomes a threat, how to respond to and contain it.

The administration is acting because of the potential for the H5N1 virus, or avian flu, to mutate and jump species to threaten humans.

With the failures of preparation for Hurricane Katrina still fresh, the federal government plans to be prepared. The National Strategy for Pandemic Influenza enables the federal government to make use of its authority to address the threat, and calls on states and communities to have pandemic preparedness plans in place.

Among its preparations, the federal government will produce and create stockpiles of more vaccines, and implement state and public health and private medical surge capacity plans.

The Senate last week targeted $7 billion in emergency funding for pandemic flu preparations in the fiscal 2006 spending bill for the Labor, Health and Human Services and Education departments.

HHS has created a new Web site, pandemicflu.gov , for information. Secretary Mike Leavitt tomorrow will detail department plans for pandemic flu preparations, which will be available on pandemicflu.gov .

Last week, Leavitt said HHS would expand the Web-based BioSense program to gather data from emergency rooms in selected cities to improve near-real-time surveillance of disease outbreaks.

Use of domestic and international systems will be key to providing surveillance, detection and reporting to ensure the earliest warning possible to protect the population, according to the national strategy. That means sufficient lab capacity and diagnostic facilities need to be developed in the United States and affected regions to be able to rapidly confirm cases in animals and humans.

To be prepared, the government will also need to:
  • Advance mechanisms for 'real-time' clinical surveillance in acute-care settings, such as emergency departments, intensive-care units and labs to provide public health officials with continuous reporting of the profile of illness

  • Develop and deploy rapid diagnostics with greater sensitivity and ability to be replicated to allow on-site diagnosis of pandemic strains of influenza at home and abroad, in animals and humans, to facilitate early warning

  • Expand domestic livestock and wildlife surveillance activities to ensure early warning of the spread of an outbreak

  • Develop screening and monitoring mechanisms and agreements to appropriately control travel and shipping of potentially infected products to and from affected regions if necessary, and to protect unaffected populations.

About the Author

Mary Mosquera is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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