Federal Officials Participate in Flu Preparedness Drill
About 20 Cabinet secretaries and federal officials on Saturday participated in a drill to test U.S. preparedness for a flu pandemic, the AP/Richmond Times-Dispatch reports (AP/Richmond Times-Dispatch, 12/11).
Frances Townsend, White House homeland security adviser, said that participants were presented with a scenario and asked to identify options and consider how each of the federal agencies would address the needs identified in the drill. "It's meant to push federal resources to the breaking point and to ensure that we're prepared, that we identify gaps and then we plan to fill them," Townsend said. She added, "We accomplished that this morning."
After the drill, HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt asked state and local governments for help with the development of preparations for a flu pandemic. He said, "The public health community understands a pandemic. ... It's now time to engage a broader community, so that we have a true nationwide response effort that's not only planned, but exercised and ready" (Babington, Washington Post, 12/11). Leavitt added, "This is a time for us to be informing but not inflaming. It's a time for us to inspire preparation but not panic" (Taylor, Washington Times, 12/11).
Leavitt also asked U.S. residents to visit the Web site pandemicflu.gov for more information. In addition, he asked Congress to fund the $7.1 billion flu preparedness plan proposed by President Bush (Washington Post, 12/11).
Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said, "This is not something that we're saying is around the corner tomorrow, but it is something we have an opportunity to get ahead of" (Washington Times, 12/11).
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) on "Fox News Sunday" asked Congress to fund the flu preparedness plan proposed by Bush. He said that lawmakers "had better pass" the funds before Congress adjourns this year, adding, "We need to be prepared. I'm very hopeful that we will invest $7.1 billion to look at prevention, to look at care, to look at treatment." Frist also cited a report released last week that estimated the potential economic impact of a flu pandemic. "I don't think it's going to happen right now or tomorrow," he said, adding, "But if it does happen, it's devastating."
According to AP/Long Island Newsday, the "prospects" for congressional approval of the funds are "not clear" (AP/Long Island Newsday, 12/11).
Several other publications recently examined issues related to flu. Summaries appear below.
CQ HealthBeat: A recent poll presented on Thursday at a forum found that 81% of U.S. residents have taken no specific actions to prepare for a potential flu pandemic, although four in 10 believe that a pandemic is "very likely to happen in the next year," CQ HealthBeat reports (Carey, CQ HealthBeat, 12/9).
USA Today: A review published on Saturday in BMJ found that a CDC estimate that flu causes 36,000 deaths annually is based on "flawed" data statistics and likely is overstated, USA Today reports (Manning, USA Today, 12/12).
Wall Street Journal: The Journal on Monday examined recent debate over whether the U.S. should use a stockpile of chicken vaccine to vaccinate U.S. poultry against avian flu (Kilman, Wall Street Journal, 12/12).
Wall Street Journal: A top Chinese government scientist maintains that the avian flu virus currently in circulation in China "is not mutating toward a form readily transmissible among humans" and that the medication amantadine might help prevent avian flu in humans, the Journal reports. Previously, researchers had believed that avian flu was resistant to amantadine (Zamiska, Wall Street Journal, 12/12).
- Washington Post Magazine: The Post Magazine on Sunday profiled Jeffrey Taubenberger, chief of the molecular pathology department at the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology in Washington, D.C., who earlier this year reconstructed the genetic sequence of the 1918 flu strain, which caused a pandemic (Achenbach, Washington Post, 12/11).
A recent editorial and opinion piece also addressed avian flu. Summaries appear below.
New York Times: The flu pandemic preparedness plan proposed by Bush indicates that he is "taking this disease seriously," but the plan "seems to be to build a moat around America," rather than to improve disease prevention efforts in developing nations, a Times editorial states (New York Times, 12/10).
- Michael Fumento, Washington Times: Times columnist Fumento examines some of the "hurdles" that the U.S. faces in the development of an effective vaccine against avian flu (Fumento, Washington Times, 12/11).