U.S. Prepares for Possible Flu Outbreak

WASHINGTON (AP) - The United States may have to close schools, restrict travel and ration scarce medications if a powerful new flu strain spurs a worldwide outbreak, according to federal plans for the next pandemic, obtained Wednesday by The Associated Press.

It will take months to brew a vaccine that works against the kind of super-flu that causes a pandemic, although government preparations include research to speed that production.

The federal plans have been long-awaited by flu specialists, who say it's only a matter of time before the next pandemic strikes and the nation is woefully unprepared.

There have been three flu pandemics in the last century, the worst in 1918, when more than half a million Americans and 20 million people worldwide died.

Concern is rising that the next pandemic could be triggered by the recurring bird flu in Asia, if it mutates in a way that lets it spread easily among people.


"This is a very sensitive issue," said Dr. William Schaffner of Vanderbilt University, who advises the federal government on flu vaccine issues. "Should it be like the Titanic - women and children first - or should it be police and firefighters first? You can see the dilemmas."

Other preparations are under way:

The CDC is increasing surveillance to better spot dangerous flu strains as soon as they emerge anywhere in the world.

First on the list of potential pandemic vaccine candidates is the bird flu, which has killed 27 people in Asia this year and prompted destruction of 100 million poultry. Although this H5N1 flu has struck periodically for a few years now, "we've never seen so many birds infected with this virus at one point in time," Gerberding said Wednesday.

The NIH is funding production of a few thousand doses of experimental H5N1 vaccine; safety testing is set to begin in November.

Four drugs can treat the flu if given soon after symptoms begin, and decrease chances of catching it. One, Tamiflu, is considered the top choice for a pandemic, particularly as it seems effective against bird flu, but supplies are limited. HHS has stockpiled enough to treat 1 million people, with more on the way, said Dr. Bruce Gellin, the National Vaccine Program's director.

Look! It's me! Oh yeah...

As for the issue--whether women & children vs. police & firefighters. That *is* pretty difficult. I think it would all depend on the number of doses they can get. If they have enough for many many people...then maybe the former, if not too many doses...maybe the latter...so that ppl can be helped. I dunno. Hard.

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