Thursday, July 19, 2007

White House Releases One-Year Progress Report of Flu Pandemic Plan

The White House Homeland Security Council has released a one-year progress report on its efforts to implement a national strategic plan to guard the United States against a pandemic flu outbreak.

Council officials said on Tuesday that they have completed 86 percent of the action items detailed in the plan, which the Bush administration launched last May, and expect to fulfill the remaining goals in six months.

There are an average of three widespread flu pandemics each century, most recently in 1918, according to Dr. Rajeev Venkayya, the President’s assistant for biological defense. Should the next flu pandemic be as highly pathogenic as it was in the last century, the government estimates that 90 million Americans would fall ill and as many as two million would die, according to Council materials.

Venkayya said the 1918 pandemic killed 2 percent of the global population — about 20 to 40 million individuals worldwide.

Throughout the year, the government has worked on influenza issues in more than 100 countries, supported the training of more than 129,000 animal health workers and 17,000 human health workers in bird flu surveillance and outbreak response, and has aided efforts to improve laboratory diagnosis and early warning networks in 75 countries, Venkayya said. The United States has taken the lead in the international preparedness campaign, contributing $440 million of the $2.3 billion raised, he said.

Currently, the nation has 6 million doses of a pre-pandemic vaccine that was approved in April, said Adm. John Agwunobi, assistant secretary of Health and Human Services, adding that initial clinical studies suggest that supply can be stretched 10 to 20 times.

Council officials said they would not close the country’s borders in the event of a flu pandemic because of the logistical difficulty, and said instead that authorities would try to limit the number of virus carriers who enter the country.

“The reality is that there are tremendous challenges to sealing our borders to begin with,” Venkayya said. “We believe, and scientists concur, that if a pandemic virus emerges anywhere on the globe, it is inevitable that it will arrive here in the U.S., irrespective of the actions that we take at the borders.”

The Council said it plans to unveil an agreement between the United States, Mexico and Canada to cooperatively address border issues and the risk of a pandemic spreading throughout North America.

Going forward, officials said efforts have to be redoubled to develop “real-time” clinical surveillance, and said there have been challenges in this area.

“To be brutally honest, we have a lot of trouble determining when we have an outbreak of infectious disease in a community here in the United States.”

Also among the Council’s action items is helping to create a “surge capacity” in U.S. hospitals, aid the international community in vaccine development and production and better equip and prepare local governments and health care entities.

Bird flu story source: Congressional Quarterly

Posted by john T. on 07/19 at 04:02 AM
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