HomeNewsArticle Display

DOD teams with other agencies to prepare U.S. for flu outbreak

WASHINGTON (AFRNS) -- The Defense Department is teaming with other federal agencies to prepare the nation to deal with a potential pandemic outbreak of influenza, a senior official said here May 8.

"Right now, we're as ready as we can be at this point," said Richard Chavez, director of chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear preparedness and response at the department.

The Defense Department rolled out its Pandemic Influenza Implementation Plan to the public May 9, part of the president's initiative to prepare the nation for a potential mass outbreak of deadly influenza virus or other threats. Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon R. England signed off on the defense department's portion of the interagency plan in August.

"What we want to do is get information out to the public so that we don't create panic, but do provide them with the proper level of information," Mr. Chavez said, noting the defense department works closely with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and other agencies.

The plan includes information on how people can help curtail the spread and mitigate the effects of a possible flu pandemic, Mr. Chavez said.

Pandemic flu is a fast-spreading human flu that causes a global outbreak, or pandemic, of serious illness that could sicken or kill hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of people, according to the U.S. government's pandemic flu Web site. For example, the 1918 flu epidemic killed millions of Americans.

Mr. Chavez said the Defense Department also teams with the U.S. departments of Homeland Security, Health and Human Services, and State, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the World Health Organization, and other groups to monitor possible pandemic-causing maladies such as the avian, or bird, flu.

One bird-flu virus in particular, known as H5N1, is especially deadly to fowl. It can be spread to humans, who have no natural immunity to it. More than 170 people worldwide have died from avian flu, according to the World Health Organization.

One of the main pillars of the national plan to confront a pandemic outbreak of influenza is containment, Mr. Chavez said. Containment of an outbreak of potentially deadly avian flu or other illnesses is predicated on early detection and action, he emphasized.

"If it starts with the avian vector, which is the poultry right now, we can identify the farms that are affected (and) cull the birds before they have the chance to infect other birds and animals," Mr. Chavez said.

Another component of the plan, he noted, involves research and development and stockpiling of appropriate anti-viral vaccines and other medicines.

U.S. officials also have conducted extensive interviews with medical experts in Singapore on how they successfully dealt with the deadly severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, epidemic that occurred worldwide between November 2002 and July 2003, Mr. Chavez added.

Incorporating such lessons learned from other countries "is all part of the process" in preparing the United States to respond to a potential pandemic outbreak, Mr. Chavez said.