US bird flu plan puts the onus on local communities

In the event of a bird flu pandemic hitting the U.S. the government has released a pandemic response plan defining specific tasks for each federal government agency in order to help minimize disruptions.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has devised an emergency plan to cover programs and services involving 100,000 employees in nearly 30,000 facilities.

Final details will be released in June and could mean staggering work shifts and closing down day-care centers to help keep operations running.

The government has stockpiled enough bird-flu vaccine for 20 million people, plus anti-flu medications and other key medical supplies, to provide some protection while manufacturers try to develop a specific bird flu vaccine.

However the onus will clearly be on local communities to deal with the medical and non-medical impacts of a pandemic with the resources they have available.

Rather than close U.S. borders following an outbreak the aim will be to slow the spread by screening international travelers for signs of infection and quarantining those who are sick.

But by assuming a worst-case scenario of up to 2 million U.S. deaths, and up to 40 percent of the work force off the job for several weeks, the government hopes to have enough contingency plans to limit social and economic chaos.

Peter Thomas, USDA's human pandemic coordinator says there are no guarantees that key functions, including meat inspections and grain shipments, would not be crippled and they are trying to plan for a worst case scenario.

The plan will apparently cover everything from food stamps and school lunches to meat and grain inspections.

Meanwhile critics say the government still has not done enough to address the impact of a pandemic on businesses.

The World Bank has estimated that a bird flu pandemic would hit all sectors of industry, energy and transportation would last a year and could cost the global economy up to $800 billion.

According to the World Health Organisation the latest bird flu strain is has killed 113 people and forced the destruction of more than 200 million birds worldwide.

To date the virus remains largely a disease in birds and is only contracted by handling sick or dead birds.

It has spread steadily through Asia, Europe and parts of Africa.

According to a recent poll only one in 10 Americans is doing anything to plan for an outbreak.

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