Closing schools, restricting travel and rationing scarce medications may be the nation's first protections if a powerful new flu strain spurs a worldwide outbreak because it will take months to brew a vaccine, according to government preparations for the next pandemic. The plan will be formally released today.
There have been three flu pandemics in the last century, the worst in 1918, which killed more than half a million Americans and 20 million people worldwide.
It's impossible to predict the toll of the next one. But estimates suggest a bad one could kill up to 207,000 Americans, according to the nation's new response plan, obtained Wednesday by the Associated Press.
Millions of sick patients could swarm doctors' offices and hospitals, says the plan, which stresses that states and hospitals must figure out now how they would free hospital beds and perform triage.
There could also be an economic and social impact from disruption of transportation, commerce, and even routine public safety, warns the plan, to be released today by the Health and Human Services Department.
The plan suggests major federal research to create "seed strains" of worrisome flu types as potential vaccine candidates.
Such work might shave a few months off the typical six to eight months it now takes to brew a new flu vaccine, said Dr. Anthony Fauci, the National Institutes of Health's infectious disease chief. The plan is a first draft, open for public comment through October, informs Boston Globe.
Vietnam suffered the highest human death toll - 16 people - when the disease broke out in Asia earlier this year. Three more died there last month when the dangerous H5N1 strain struck again.
The first outbreak also killed eight people in Thailand and devastated Asian poultry stocks, killing or prompting the cull of 100 million birds.
The WHO's representative in Vietnam, Hans Troedsson, urged wealthier countries to fund more research to answer questions surrounding the disease.
"I think it is a bit frustrating to see how important this work [is] that needs to be done here in Vietnam, and it's only partially funded," he said. "Since the outbreaks have not been where a lot of high-income countries' research institutions are, there also has been less resource allocation for it.", reports Newsday.
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