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CDC Chief: Bird Flu 'Not Media Hype'

Gerberding Pledges to Be on Front Lines if Bird Flu Breaks Out
By
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Jan. 24, 2006 - The bird flu news isn't encouraging, the head of the CDC said today.

The comments by CDC Director Julie M. Gerberding, MD, MPH, came at the opening of the 2006 National Influenza Vaccine Summit meeting of public health officials and vaccine manufacturers.

Preparation for a flu pandemic is only a small part of the meeting. But in her opening remarks, Gerberding stressed how seriously the CDC is taking the threat of a bird flu pandemic.

"This is not media hype. This is a real situation," Gerberding said. "And at CDC we are very focused on the possibility of pandemic with this virus or some unexpected virus."

An Evolving Virus

Bird flu -- the virus known technically as H5N1 avian influenza -- is evolving. Whether it will necessarily evolve into a pandemic flu virus depends on whether it gains the power to spread easily from person to person.

But only one thing is certain: Flu viruses are notoriously unpredictable.

"The strategic national stockpile does not contain a crystal ball," Gerberding said. "What we are hearing is not encouraging. We know the virus is on the move. It has moved on from the Vietnam clade [virus group] we made vaccine against."

Front Lines of the Flu Battle

The CDC director promised that if bird flu does start spreading among humans -- anywhere on earth -- the U.S. will not sit on its heels.

"If pandemic influenza is a threat anywhere in the world, it is a threat here," Gerberding said. "If anywhere in the world there appears to be person-to-person transmission, we will do everything we can do to quench the initial outbreaks. We will engage on the front lines."

Could the CDC and its international partners really succeed? Gerberding is cautiously optimistic.

"We believe if the virus is found in a small rural area, we would have a chance to quench it," she said. "But of course if it happened in a city, the chance of quenching it is pretty small."

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