Bird Flu Alarm

2006-03-21-Officials discuss pandemic flu scenarios

Understanding Avian Influenza

2006-03-21-Officials discuss pandemic flu scenarios

Pandemic flu is a real threat that North Carolina must be ready to combat if and when the time comes, the Bush Administration's top health administrator told a gathering of state health, business, education and public safety officials Tuesday.

"I?셫 sure everyone in this room has asked ... is this the little boy who cried wolf?" said Mike Leavitt, Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. "Pandemics happen. This is not a Stephen King novel we?셱e talking about. It's a biological fact of life and, hence, we need to prepare."

Leavitt was in Raleigh for a summit addressing the prospect of a pandemic flu outbreak. There are no signs that pandemic influenza, such as the Spanish flu outbreak of 1918-1919 that killed 500,000 Americans and up to 40 million worldwide, will hit any time soon. Not a single bird infected with the H5N1 virus, considered the most likely candidate to trigger a pandemic among humans, has been discovered on U.S. soil. Likewise, no human cases of H5N1 have been observed in this country.

Still, the state is standing ready to detect and contain the disease, should it occur in North Carolina, said Gov. Mike Easley, who hosted the "Pandemic Preparedness" summit.

North Carolina was among the first states to develop a pandemic influenza response plan, which was unveiled in January. And the state plans to spend about $16 million over the next two years to stockpile the antiviral drug Tamiflu, which would be used to treat residents sick with pandemic flu.

Easley said North Carolina is especially well positioned to catch the first cases of a potential pandemic flu outbreak because of a new statewide surveillance system that monitors patients admitted to hospitals through emergency rooms. Admissions can be monitored as often as every 15 minutes, giving public health teams the chance to take proper action to contain outbreaks as soon as possible.

"North Carolina will not look to the federal government, in the middle of a pandemic, to ride in to save us," Easley said.

At the same time, he called for more federal dollars to support pandemic flu preparedness. So far, the U.S. Congress has appropriated $350 million for such efforts, to be shared among the 50 states. North Carolina expects to receive about $5 million of that money, but so far, only $1.4 million has been awarded.

"You have to give us the dollars to fight this fight," Easley told Leavitt.

Understanding Avian Influenza