U.S. considers massive bird flu response

April 16, 2006 at 8:01 AM

WASHINGTON, April 16 (UPI) -- A multi-agency plan to combat a potential bird flu outbreak in the United States is being finalized and may be signed by President George Bush this week.

The strategy is the first broad sweep at addressing the bird flu threat, a Sunday report says.

Bird flu has killed more than 100 people and millions of animals throughout Asia, Europe, Africa and the Middle East.

Scientists fear the deadly H5N1 strain will mutate into a virus easily passed from human to human, sparking a worldwide pandemic.

The Washington Post reports the worst-case U.S. scenario would be an 18-month outbreak killing 1.9 million people.

The strategic plan is aimed at dramatically reducing that count, but includes technical issues, such as how the government would stay operable during a mass outbreak.

For example, the Department of Veterans Affairs wants to create a heightened exam schedule, the Pentagon may stockpile latex gloves and the Treasury Department may have U.S. currency printed abroad, the Post said.

Critical details still need to be ironed out, such as how much vaccine needs to be produced and purchased.

Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, said the government is getting more prepared but "most of the federal government right now is as ill-prepared as any part of society."

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