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    White House Unveils Flu Pandemic Plan

    Local Communities and Individuals Bear Responsibility

    Individual Responsibility continued...

    "We depend on everyone outside of the government to take this as seriously as we do," Townsend said.

    Individual households should consider building up stockpiles of water and nonperishable foods that are easy to cook, the plan says. People should secure supplies of medications or other needed personal items in case transportation or distribution systems temporarily break down.

    The White House also urged employers to establish policies for flexible work schedules, including telecommuting and skeleton crews. Other parts of the plan urge "social distancing" in workplaces and schools to minimize chances for the flu virus to spread from person to person.

    'Important Milestone'

    Michael T. Osterholm, MD, PhD, a sometime-critic of federal pandemic planning efforts, calls the blueprint "an important milestone." He tells WebMD that the document shows well-developed planning at "all levels" of government.

    But he also warns that the plan leaves several key points unanswered, including whether businesses operating with thin "just-in-time" inventories will find ways to continue operating in a crisis environment lasting several months.

    "I think we still have a ways to go on that," says Osterholm, who is director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota. Osterholm is also associate director of the National Center for Food Protection and Defense at the Department of Homeland Security.

    Osterholm calls recommendations for social distancing at workplaces and in schools "a good idea," though he stressed that few practical methods short of vaccination are proved to slow or stop the spread of flu viruses. In the past Osterholm has warned that the antiviral drug Tamiflu, now being stockpiled by the federal government, may only have a partial effect on the virus.

    "We don't know if they'll make a difference or not. We just don't know, and we have to be honest about that with the public," he tells WebMD.

    Wednesday's plan is a second, revised version of the White House's readiness recommendations. The first was introduced last fall but altered for Wednesday's release. The Department of Health and Human Services has released its own public health preparedness plan.

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