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U.S. Hospitals may help Spread Bird Flu Pandemic

U.S. hospitals could contribute to the spread of influenza during a pandemic because most do not follow good hygiene practices, according to an official U.S. report//.

This report, coupled with the Congressional Budget Office report showing saying that a pandemic could cost the U.S. economy $675 billion, adds to an increasingly dire picture of the impact of an bird flu pandemic in the U.S.

A report from the National Center for Policy Analysis predicted that unless hospitals tighten procedures quickly, they could contribute to the spread of H5N1.

U.S. officials continue to urge states and businesses to get ready for an outbreak of serious disease, issuing a checklist of preparations, while the Congress is haggling with funding a federal plan before the year-end.

The H5N1 avian influenza spreading through poultry in Asia and parts of Europe, is considered the worst threat now. It has killed 69 people and infected 135, but a few mutations of the virus could turn it into a pandemic that spreads quickly among people.

Many reports have shown that hospitals can be a source for spreading such diseases, because health care workers fail to follow even basic hygiene practices such as washing their hands after touching any patient or piece of equipment.

"Shoddy infection control is poor preparation for flu and poor homeland security as well," said Betsy McCaughey, a former lieutenant governor of New York who heads the Committee to Reduce Infection Deaths, a group that campaigns about hospital infections and which helped write the report.

A separate report from the U.S. Congressional Budget Office shows that a bird flu pandemic would cost the U.S. economy $675 billion if 30 percent of the population were infected -- as has been the case in the past three pandemics. The report assumed a 2.5 percent mortality rate, that the pandemic would last for three months and that 30 percent of the workforce would become ill and miss three weeks of work.

The report predicted that people would stay home and reduce turnout at restaurants, shopping malls, sporting events, churches and schools, with demand falling by 80 percent for entertainment, arts, recreation, restaurants, and lodging. Together, the supply and demand impacts would result in a 5 percent reduction in GDP (gross domestic product).

"Business confidence would be dented, the supply of labor would be restricted (owing to illness, mortality, and absenteeism spurred by fear of contracting the disease), supply chains would be strained as transportation systems were disrupted, and arrears and default rates on consumer and business debt would probably rise somewhat," the report says. "Economic activity would slow, but it would not halt completely."

The World Bank has estimated that a pandemic could cost the global economy $800 billion.

U.S. President George W. Bush released a $7.1 billion bird flu plan in November but Congress has yet to fund it. One part of the plan involves building stockpiles of influenza drugs, which would not provide a cure but which might help make the most vulnerable patients less ill.

Meanwhile, Roche AG said it was going ahead with its plans to license various aspects of producing its drug, Tamiflu, to generic manufacturers.

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