Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Fed health chief says U.S. unready for bird flu

Top Bush administration officials are bracing for the arrival of the feared H5N1 strain of avian influenza into the United States within a matter of months, with the virus most likely to be carried here by migratory birds, the same way it has spread from Southeast Asia to Europe and Africa.

Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt, repeating a warning he issued from Washington the day before, told reporters in San Francisco on Tuesday that it was “highly probable” that within just a few months, a wild bird would bring the virus to North America.

“That would not be a crisis,’’ he counseled. “It would only be a crisis if it began to infect people.”

Leavitt was in San Francisco for a talk before the Commonwealth Club, where he discussed a broad range of health issues, from the high cost of medical care to local preparation for a flu pandemic.

During a brief meeting with reporters after his speech, he also disclosed that he plans to meet with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger for a bird flu summit at the end of the month to discuss ways that California can prepare for a potential influenza pandemic.

To date, the H5N1 strain has been lethal primarily to domestic poultry in nations where it has been detected, but since 2003 it has also infected 177 people, killing 98. Nearly all the human cases involved people in close contact with infected birds.

[Read more here]

Posted by john T. on 03/15 at 11:22 AM
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