Take all steps needed to prepare for avian flu
The governor has asked the Legislature for $11 million to prepare for the possibility of an avian flu pandemic.
MIGRATORY birds have transported a dangerous influenza strain from China and Southeast Asia to Europe and Africa in the past year. Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt says he assumes the infected birds will arrive in the United States "sometime between now and the fall." Birds may carry the flu to Hawaii when this year's migratory pattern begins next month, and state officials should make every effort to prepare.
Although the H5N1 virus has killed more than 100 people, no death has been attributed to human-to-human contact, which would require a mutation that has yet to be found. If that occurs, a flu pandemic could take 2-7 million lives, according to a World Health Organization official.
The human-to-human version of avian flu is more likely to arrive by people than by birds, especially because of the number of visitors from Asia. With that expectation, Hawaii is the first state to test noticeably ill airline passengers arriving at Honolulu Airport.
The Centers for Disease Control has a station to quarantine people with serious and contagious illnesses. The state also has a medical team assigned to test airline arrivals for avian and other kinds of flu.
However, any human-to-human mutation of the flu that emerges is likely to infiltrate Hawaii, and a vaccine is necessary to minimize its spread. The Bush administration proposed an expenditure of $7.1 billion to purchase and stockpile large amounts of vaccine, but Congress has provided only $3.3 billion.
State lawmakers appear more willing to agree with Governor Lingle's requests for $11 million to stockpile avian flu vaccines and to buy medical supplies and a system for keeping track of the virus upon its arrival, creating the best protection possible.
"Every state is different, but it's clear to me that due diligence has been done here," U.S. Surgeon General Richard Carmona told a Hawaii House committee.
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