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Bush Unveils Latest Blueprint for Handling Bird Flu Pandemic

According to President George W. Bush's latest blueprint for handling a pandemic, state and local health officials would be responsible for coordinating// the battle against an outbreak of lethal influenza in the U.S.

While the plans have been laid by the federal government to decrease the risk of a pandemic and its transmission, ``the center of gravity of the pandemic response, however, will be in communities,'' the report said.

A preliminary $7.1 billion plan was released in November to speed up the manufacture of flu vaccines as well as stockpiling medicines. Surveillance strengthening and helping states to prepare for a pandemic are also part of the plan.

The report said that a lethal flu outbreak in the U.S. could cause between 200,000 and 2 million deaths as well as disrupt everything from the movement of goods and services to education in schools and universities.

Congress has approved $3.8 billion of the administration's request, with additional money pending in legislation now in the Senate.

Over 300 actions to be taken by the federal departments and agencies have been listed in the recent government plan.

The H5N1, virus mainly affects birds and has spread from Asia to Africa, the Middle East and Europe. The death toll from this virus has been 113 of 205 people known to have been infected since late 2003 according to the World Health Organization.

Many researchers have opined that H5N1 will move to North America when infected wild birds migrate from Asia to Alaska.

According to the federal plan, prepared by the Homeland Security Council American businesses from stockbrokers and insurance agents to steelmakers and autoworkers should `assume that up to 40 percent of their staff may be absent for periods of about two weeks at the height of the pandemic wave.’

Energy and communications industry have claimed that they would not be able to operate with more than 30 percen
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