WASHINGTON (AP) - Bird flu will hit the United States -- it's only a
matter of time -- and not all states are ready to respond to the deadly
virus, the Homeland Security Department's top doctor warns.
Dr. Jeffrey Runge, homeland security's chief medical officer, said
"it's not a matter of if, but when" bird flu enters the country. But
it won't pose a critical threat until the virus can spread
consistently between people, he said.
In an interview Thursday with The Associated Press, Runge said states
with experience in dealing with hurricanes or terrorist attacks are
more ready to face bird flu.
He did not identify those that have been slow to prepare, but said
state and local governments must carry most of burden of planning for
an outbreak, including readying emergency medical workers, providing
hospital beds and setting up treatment centers outside of immediate
"Some states still have the idea that if it makes people sick, it's
simply a health event," Runge said. "And others are much more forward
reaching, and understand that they have to prepare for things like
civil unrest, or interruption of the supply chain, or the failure of
critical infrastructure to keep going, to keep the nation going in the
event of some catastrophic event. And those are the ones that we think
are the best prepared."
Gov. Mike Huckabee, R-Ark., who leads the National Governors
Association, said states have "pretty much been told to prepare to row
their own boat" in responding to bird flu.
Federal health officials "were pretty candid with us," Huckabee said
in an interview. "The federal government simply does not have the
resources themselves to deal with this on a mass level. And if a
pandemic does occur, it will overwhelm their resources, just like it
will overwhelm ours."
Scientists believe the flu most likely would be carried into the
United States by a wild bird migrating from a country that has had an
Runge credited agriculture inspectors and poultry producers with
adopting tough security standards to prevent visitors from exposing
fowl to the virus. He recalled hearing from an inspector that "it was
tougher to get into a chicken coop than it was to get into our DHS
Runge's department is responsible for blocking potentially infected
birds and bird products from entering the U.S. at airports, seaports
and international borders. Unions representing U.S. Customs and Border
Protection officers have complained they have not been trained to
identify bird smugglers or to quarantine birds arriving from countries
that have had flu outbreaks.
Runge expressed some frustration with the level of training so far. "I
wish I could say it had all already been done," he said. "Right now
the planning is coordinated, but the education is not as coordinated
as we'd like. That having been said, everybody around here's gotten a
lot smarter about it."
Copyright 2006 The Associated Press.
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