Feds present bird flu plan

County health officer says plan is “ full of fluff”

Communities across the country should not expect to be rescued by the federal government if a flu pandemic strikes, warns a draft of the latest national response plan.

Details released Wednesday on the U.S. government’s flu pandemic preparedness plan outlined the strategy’s finer points while focusing on a worst-case scenario.

The administration will update the $7.1 billion pandemic preparations it proposed last fall, and will focus on three major issues: preparedness and communication, surveillance and detection, and response and containment.

The document also stressed that in the event of a pandemic, local communities must be prepared to protect themselves and not rely solely on the federal government.

Dr. Roger Case, health officer at the Island County Health Department, said this is not surprising.

“Exactly what would folks expect the government to do for them anyway?” Case asked.

“The individual is always the party who can and should best prepare for any emergency. In this case, they need to accept the responsibility for preparing for a several month shortage of supplies especially food and medicines,” he said.

But it is the plan’s focus on a worst possible outcome that has drawn criticism from experts nationwide.

The government’s plan outlines a worst-case scenario of a flu pandemic that could cause up to 2 million deaths in the United States.

Some are concerned about the fear component and the impact that the plan could have on the public.

Whether the plan plays into the fear that people may have is open to question, Case said.

“The best way to allay fear is to be knowledgeable about the situation, and that is where the media comes into play,” he said.

The federal plan also calls for alternating offices and schedules to limit contact between employees. Offices should be disinfected regularly, and coworkers should maintain distances of at least three feet apart.

“Business as we know it will likely be heavily impacted. Pandemics can be addressed only by effective vaccines, medications, common sense, and the elixir of time,” Case said.

“I feel the document to be full of fluff,” he added. “The best thing the government can do for communities is to expedite the development of new measures to prepare and make available effective vaccines, and to vastly expand and distribute via the Strategic National Stockpile supplies of effective antiviral medications.”

“The present stockpile of the latter is pitifully small for a nation of 290 million-plus people.”

Island County is taking its own steps to educate and prepare the public.

A series of local community-specific meetings are planned for the next few months throughout Island County to discuss in detail the specific plans for schools, businesses, social activities and agencies will need to prepare for a potential pandemic situation.

Meeting dates will be published as they become available.

Fears of a worldwide flu pandemic are focused on the bird flu virus, which has infected about 200 people since 2003, killing less than half of them, primarily in countries with substandard hygiene.

So far, all infections were passed from infected birds to humans, usually through close contact with the animals.

However, scientists are concerned that the virus could mutate into a form that could be transmitted between humans.

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