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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 pandemic flupreparedness plan. 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 quarantine.

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 care.

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 medicine.

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 complications
  • 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

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