Confining bird flu abroad key to US plan

In the event that the bird flu virus mutates to easily infect humans, a cornerstone of the US plan is to rush Federal medical personnel overseas to help limit its spread.

“If you can get there fast enough and apply good public health techniques of isolating and quarantining and medicating and vaccinating the people in that area, you can … squelch it or you can delay it,” Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt said in outlining the pandemic plan for The Associated Press.

He compared the plan to preparing for a forest fire during a drought: Watch for the spark and race to extinguish it before it spreads.

The Bush administration is planning to release an updated bird flu epidemic response plan shortly.

Editor’s notes: Getting the US directly involved with nations likely to be first affected is a good idea. Indeed, the US isn’t the only country anticipating this type of action. Australia has already sent specialists to affected regions and would no doubt send more should a more serious outbreak occur.

In the event of an epidemic, local authorities will likely be overwhelmed and short-staffed. The key will be to coordinate the response beforehand.

Bureaucracy runs strong and deep around the world, and means will need to be put in place to allow people and material to flow quickly to affected regions.

Doctors need to be able to reach affected areas quickly without having to go through channels to get visas, travel permits, and permission. The paperwork issues need to be dealt with now - before disaster strikes.

Should the epidemic spread, the US plan calls for closure of schools, airports and other places where large groups of people congregate. This is all quite sensible, but recent history has shown that what’s on paper and what gets executed (e.g. the totally ignored New Orleans hurricane plan) are often two different things.

The updated plan should make for some very interesting reading.

Original source.

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