Pacific Command readies for pandemic crisis
U.S. MILITARY leaders in the Pacific have accelerated efforts to prepare for a possible human flu pandemic by stockpiling anti-viral drugs and warning troops to be vigilant about sanitation.
This week, officials at the Hawaii-based Pacific Command plan a workshop to test how ready they are to cope with a pandemic that could put them on the front lines.
The Joint Chiefs of Staff has ordered the military's nine combat commands to devise anti-flu strategies. But the Pacific Command could face a challenge more urgently than others.
Coping with a flu pandemic would be more difficult than responding to last year's Indian Ocean tsunami, which killed some 230,000 people in 11 nations, said Rear Adm. Robert D. Hufstader, chief medical officer at Camp Smith headquarters.
"The tsunami came and happened and no one could stop it -- and then we all tried to pick up the pieces and deal with the aftermath," Hufstader said, whereas a flu pandemic would be "an evolving thing."
Hufstader said the military is still discussing whether Pacific Command would have any role in quarantining patients or cordoning off areas of outbreaks. It is also unclear whether military hardware would be used to help civilians. But Pacific Command has been building up its stockpile of Tamiflu, viewed as the best available defense against a possible pandemic, and expects its supply to reach 6 million doses by February.
Hufstader said nurses and doctors would likely be prescribed doses in the event of a human pandemic. Experts say the military may also be given higher-priority access to any vaccine developed to battle a human mutation of H5N1.