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Oregon: Health officials say plan is late, inadequate.

Byline: Tim Christie The Register-Guard

President Bush's plan to prepare the nation for a bird flu pandemic is a year late and millions of dollars short for state and local governments, public health officials said.

Dr. Sarah Hendrickson, Lane County's public health officer, said the president's speech on Tuesday amounted to a "manufactured crisis."

"I think it's politics," she said. "How come we weren't hearing about this six months ago? Our national government is not leading - it's following in this case, unfortunately."

Dr. Susan Allan, Oregon's public health director, was more diplomatic, but nonetheless underwhelmed by Bush's plan.

The $7.1 billion strategy would allot $100 million to state and local health departments for preparedness activities. Allan said Oregon would see about $1 million.

"When I noticed billions of dollars going into buying vaccines and drugs and only $100 million going to systems that would deliver those drugs, I was wondering if vaccines were going to walk to the people who need them," she said.

No matter how much vaccine or antiviral medication is stockpiled, they won't do much good if state and local health officials aren't prepared to deliver them, she said.

Both Oregon and Lane County have drafted pandemic preparedness plans. Both local hospitals also have included in their disaster plans the steps they would take in the event of a catastrophic spread of a deadly virus.

In Oregon, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that an influenza pandemic would sicken up to 800,000 of the state's 3.4 million residents, hospitalize 9,700 and kill 2,300, according to the state's pandemic plan.

For each phase of a pandemic, the state's response is broken down into five areas: surveillance, immunization and medication, cooperation among agencies and jurisdictions, laboratory response, and communications - among health providers and with the public.

"We have systems that work closely with doctors and hospitals and a very good state lab," Allan said. "We have a detection system set up. If avian flu comes to Oregon, we're going to know it."

Many, but not all local health departments and hospitals also have good plans that connect with the state's plan, Allan said.

"We need to make sure every hospital and every local health department has a strong pandemic plan," she said.

The Oregon Medical Association and the Oregon Association of Hospitals & Health Systems also need to be more involved in planning, she said.

As far as public concern over the possibility of an avian flu pandemic, Allan and Hendrickson said people are better off worrying about garden-variety influenza, a serious respiratory disease that kills about 36,000 Americans and hundreds of Oregonians each year.

Flu season already has started in Oregon, Allan said.

"Pay attention to the real risk right now," she said.

"Worry should be in direct proportion to what you can do with your worry," Hendrickson said.

"Should you be worried about bird flu? Yeah, but be more worried about flu killing your mother or pregnant wife or child under the age of 2."

Hendrickson's advice? Get a flu shot. Stay home from work or school if you're sick. Practice good respiratory etiquette, meaning cover your mouth when you cough and wash your hands.

Allan said avian flu is being "overhyped," but added that some major respiratory disease outbreak will occur, whether it's the flu or something else.

Pandemics occur when an influenza virus mutates into a type from which most people have little or no immunity. The Spanish flu pandemic of 1918-19 caused about 50 million deaths worldwide. Less severe flu pandemics occurred in 1957 and 1968.

Public health officials today are most concerned about a strain of bird flu called H5N1.

The strain was detected in animals in nine Asian nations in 2003 and 2004.

This year, H5N1 has been found in Russia, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, Turkey and Romania.

Canadian health officials said this week they're trying to determine whether a strain of bird flu detected in Quebec, Manitoba and British Columbia is the deadly H5N1 strain.

The strain has not yet changed into a form that is highly infectious for humans and spreads easily from person to person.

If and when that happens, it could mark the start of a global outbreak, according to the World Health Organization.

WHERE TO GET THE FACTS

For more information on avian flu and pandemic preparedness, go to:

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: www.cdc.gov/ flu/avian/

A new federal Web site: pandemicflu.gov

The World Health Organization: www.who.int/ csr/disease/ avian_influenza/ avian_faqs/en/ index.html
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:Health
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Nov 2, 2005
Words:762
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