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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 t of their workers out at one time.

The report mainly aims to target and alert the private sectors that accounts for 85 percent of all entities in the U.S., including banks, hospitals and food production.

‘While the pandemic will not damage power lines, banks or computer networks, it has the potential ultimately to threaten all critical infrastructure’ when people get sick and discontinue work ‘for weeks or months.’

Steve Brozak, an analyst at WBB Securities in Westfield, New Jersey has predicted that even government institutions might fail, at least temporarily, during a pandemic.

According to Brozak industries such as nursing homes and for-profit prisons would not be able to survive a pandemic in their present form and insurance companies could be irreparably harmed.

In the event of an outbreak, employers should substitute teleconferences for face-to-face meetings and adopt liberal leave policies for workers with sick family members to reduce the risk of disease transmission, the administration's report said.

Officials also urged maintaining a distance of three feet at work to reduce the risk of getting sick.

The Bush Administration also plans to have enough bird-flu vaccine stockpiled for 20 million people. Supplies of antiviral drugs for 75 million people to reduce the severity of the disease and limiting the spread of the disease was also planned.

The government plans to expand the number of poultry vaccines from 40 million to 110 million doses to protect the $29 billion U.S. industry.

Compensation for people harmed by experimental flu vaccines would increase under an amendment to a government spending bill proposed by Senator Edward Kennedy, a Massachusetts Democrat.

‘These funds would give the assurance needed to health professionals, first responders, and others who will be first to receive experimental flu vaccines that they will be compensated if they are in jured,'’ a statement from Kennedy's office said.

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