Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Avian Flu In India

Reminiscent of the movie Outbreak, a small town in India has been sealed off to prevent spreading of the bird flu:

Officials in India's Maharashtra state have begun sealing off an entire town where bird flu has been discovered.

No-one will be allowed in or out of Navapur, which has a population of nearly 30,000, or 19 nearby villages.

The measures come after reports that blood samples from people in hospital have tested positive for bird flu. Health officials deny the reports.

Hundreds of thousands of birds are being culled after deadly H5N1 bird flu was found in Navapur last week.

This kind of a report begs the question: What happens if the epidemic reaches the United States?

Hugh Hewitt interviewed Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist yesterday asking essentially the same question. Specifically, Hugh's interview deals with who is in charge if the H5N1 virus reaches America, as well as what implications this has for response and relief efforts. An excerpt:

HH: Now Senator Frist, give me your understanding. It's spreading like wildfire right now, and in Indonesia and China, today, this very day, there are massive kills underway of poultry, wild and domestic. Who has the authority, should the bird flu in birds get to the United States, to order these kind of poultry kills, which will obviously impact our economy a great deal. Whose got that right?

BF: Well, your point is very well taken. Ultimately, the Secretary of Health and Human Services is going to make the call. But it very quickly falls over into the agriculture, farming community, because that is where one of the first steps will be taken, the actual quarantining, telling people to stay at home, advising people from a public health standpoint will go through the Secretary of Health and Human Services, Secretary Leavett.

HH: But is there a federal law that authorizes federal authorities...I'm thinking after Katrina, we did this dance with the locals where they didn't want us in, and as a result, the feds got blamed. Is there a federal statute on the books that says the Director of HHS operaing pursuant to Presidential authority, can take control of neighborhoods and of poultry farms, and things like that, and order sequestration and anything else that needs to happen?

BF: There's specific provisions for things like what we just talked about, in terms of manufacturing, vaccine manufacturing, protection from the use of anti-viral agents, and dictating the use of anti-viral agents. State law, in most states, are either addressing or have addressed, although about half of them have not yet addressed the actual quaratining commands. And that will come from the state level, and it will be upon advice from the federal level, but ultimately from the state level.

The Avian Flu is a very serious issue, and it becomes more and more so with every day that passes.

It is especially important that state and local governments develop a plan of action in the case that the H5N1 virus arrives, and the federal government must also create an appropriate chain of command response system that will enable the crisis to be properly dealt with.