Avian Flu: 10 Questions, 10 Answers
What You Can Do; What the Government Is Doing
4. What can the government do about bird flu?
The U.S. has a flu. This includes plans for deciding which people most urgently need
scarce hospital beds and medicines, deploying response teams, increasing
hospital capacity, and, when necessary, enforcing patient isolation and
The government will try to delay the arrival of a flu pandemic by isolating
ill travelers arriving from affected areas. This is not expected to prevent a
pandemic from sweeping the country.
In the event of a flu pandemic, the first thing that will happen is that
schools will close. Public gatherings will be discouraged or forbidden. People
will be urged to work from home.
It's expected that about 40% of children and 20% of working adults will get
the flu during a pandemic. Overall, about a third of the population is expected
to get ill. At least half of infected people are expected to seek medical
The government is stockpiling antiviral medicines. How large this stockpile
will be depends on how soon a pandemic hits. Eventually, the U.S. hopes to
stockpile enough flu drugs to treat 25% of the U.S. population.
The government will deploy its stockpiled bird-flu vaccine, but it's not
clear this will be effective. A truly effective vaccine should start to appear
about six months after the pandemic begins. It will take two vaccinations,
weeks apart, for a person to become protected.
Vaccines will be distributed to people in order of priority, in two tiers,
with group A having the highest priority in each tier. This list, from the U.S.
Department of Health and Human Services, does not include the 1.5 million
members of the military considered essential to ongoing operations and military
Tier 1, Group A:
- The approximately 40,000 people essential to vaccine manufacture.
- Medical workers with direct patient contact
Tier 1, Group B:
- People with two medical conditions that put them at high risk of flu
- People with a past history of flu hospitalization
Tier 1, Group C:
- Pregnant women
- Household contacts of people with immune-system problems (such as
transplants or AIDS) that prevent them from being vaccinated
- Household contacts of children under 6 months of age