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THE NATION

U.S. Making Preparations for Next Outbreak of Super-Flu

August 26, 2004|From Associated Press

WASHINGTON — The United States might have to close schools, restrict travel and ration scarce medications if a powerful new flu strain caused a worldwide outbreak, according to federal plans for the next pandemic, obtained Wednesday by Associated Press.

It would take months to brew a vaccine that works against the kind of super-flu that causes a pandemic, although government preparations include research to speed that production.

The federal plans have been long-awaited by flu specialists, who say it's only a matter of time before the next pandemic strikes.

There were three flu pandemics in the last century, the worst in 1918, when more than half a million Americans and more than 20 million people worldwide died.

Concern is rising that the next pandemic could be triggered by the recurring bird flu in Asia, if it mutates in a way that lets it spread easily among people.

"We're all holding our breath," Dr. Julie Gerberding, head of the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said in an interview Wednesday.

About 36,000 Americans die of regular flu every winter.

Pandemics strike when the easily mutable influenza virus shifts to a strain that people have never experienced before.

It's impossible to predict the toll of the next pandemic, but a bad one could kill up to 207,000 Americans, according to the Pandemic Influenza Response and Preparedness Plan.

The plan is a first draft, open for public comment through October.

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