Bird flu fight has $15M tag
Lingle's requested funding would be used to stockpile medications and monitor illnesses
GOV. LINDA LINGLE will ask the Legislature for $15 million to help the state prepare for a possible flu pandemic.
The state Department of Health would use the money to stockpile antiviral medications and develop a data management system to track and monitor illnesses here, Lt. Gov. James "Duke" Aiona Jr. and Health Director Chiyome Fukino said yesterday.
The state released the 155-page draft yesterday of its proposed "Pandemic Influenza Preparedness & Response Plan," the result of 1 1/2 years of work. State officials said their plan generally conforms to the National Pandemic Flu Plan released this month by President Bush.
The national plan recommends stockpiling enough antiviral pills to treat 25 percent of a state's base population -- about 300,000 Hawaii residents.
State hopes of getting a share of the federal bird flu money were quashed yesterday when the 2006 health-spending bill was defeated by the U.S. House.
Emergency money that Bush requested to fight a potential influenza pandemic had already been cut from the bill because conservative Republicans said it would mean cutting other government programs.
REPUBLICAN leaders said they would try to provide money to stockpile vaccines and antiviral drugs in separate legislation later this year or early next year.
Avian influenza, or bird flu, is caused by viruses that occur naturally among birds. The H5N1 virus has spread to poultry in Asia and Europe but has not been found in the United States.
It usually does not infect humans, although more than 100 confirmed cases of human infection from bird flu viruses have occurred since 1997. Infected people mostly work with poultry in rural areas.
An outbreak on a pandemic scale is feared if the H5N1 virus mutates in a way to infect humans and spread from one person to another.
No state is stockpiling antiviral medications, and there are no drugs specifically for the H5N1 virus, Fukino said.
The state preparedness plan describes four commercially available licensed prescription medications with antiviral activity but says, "A local stockpile of antivirals is difficult to establish and maintain due to the high cost and limited availability of antivirals."
Fukino said the state uses whatever drugs are available for viral infections: "Whether avian flu would be resistant, we don't know."
She said the capacity to make large quantities of vaccine when needed must be increased in the United States. One of the benefits of stockpiling will be to encourage manufacturers to ramp up antiviral drug production, she said.
FUKINO acknowledged wide concern about spending a lot of money to stockpile medicine that might not work against a pandemic but said, "It is better to use something that might work than none at all."
She said an enhanced data management system will build on what is available in the Department of Health and link with hospitals to get information about flu cases to reduce incidence and spread.
Avian influenza, or H5N1 virus
Infected: 130 people in Vietnam, China, Cambodia, Indonesia and Thailand since December 2003
Fear: So far, most human cases have been traced to contact with infected birds. But scientists say the H5N1 virus might mutate into a strain that is more easily transmissible between humans, leading to a pandemic that could kill millions.
Source: Star-Bulletin news services, Associated Press photo (above)
Aiona said the governor will convene a committee with broad representation of state and private agencies and legislative leaders to discuss emergency preparations for a possible pandemic.
Business and tourism interests will be represented because of devastating economic consequences of a public health emergency, Fukino said.
The state has already established airport surveillance of avian flu and other infections and will use isolation and quarantine if needed to prevent the transmission of a virus.
Aiona said the administration is aware of anxiety in the community about a possible pandemic, and the public "should have calm about this" because the state is prepared to respond.
Lingle, in a written statement, said stockpiling of antiviral medications is "part of our administration's proactive strategy to protect Hawaii residents and visitors from a possible outbreak of a pandemic flu."
"We will continue to work collaboratively with the medical community and other government, private-sector and community organizations to prepare for a possible pandemic and ensure the continued health and safety of the public," Lingle said.
She said the multiagency committee will develop a coordinated strategy to carry out the state's pandemic flu plan. The draft will be available Tuesday for public review and comment on the Health Department Web site, www.hawaii.govhealth.
Five house committees planned to hold an informational briefing this morning to help determine how Hawaii can best prepare for bird flu.