Hospitals a good place to catch bird flu

While U.S. officials continue to urge states and businesses to get ready for an outbreak of serious disease, issuing checklists of preparations, and Congress battles with funding a federal plan before the end of the year, a report has been released that declares that because most U.S. hospitals do not follow good hygiene practices, they could contribute to the spread of influenza during a pandemic.

The report, combined with a Congressional Budget Office report showing a pandemic could cost the U.S. economy $675 billion, just adds to an increasingly grim picture being painted of what a bird flu pandemic would look like in the United States.

The H5N1 avian influenza spreading through poultry in Asia and parts of Europe, including Ukraine, is presently considered one of the worst threats.

To date it has killed 70 people and infected 135, but a few mutations could turn it into a virus that spreads easily and quickly among people.

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

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

The report says that shoddy infection control is poor preparation for flu and poor homeland security as well.

Betsy McCaughey, a former lieutenant governor of New York, heads the Committee to Reduce Infection Deaths, a group that campaigns about hospital infections, 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 CBO report supports other predictions that have been made about the potential effect on the U.S. economy.

The World Bank has predicted a pandemic could cost the global economy $800 billion a year.

President George W. Bush's $7.1 billion bird flu plan has yet to be funded by Congress.

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.

Drug giant Roche said it was moving ahead with plans to license various aspects of producing its drug, Tamiflu, to some generic manufacturers.

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