President Bush Uses NIH Stage to Launch $7.1 Billion Bird Flu Pandemic Plan
Saying the nation cannot afford to wait until a pandemic arrives before taking action, President George W. Bush used the background of the National Institutes of Health to ask Congress to approve a $7.1 billion dollar plan to prepare the country for the possible invasion of the bird flu virus.
Schmalfeldt: Saying the nation cannot afford to wait until a pandemic arrives before taking action, President George W. Bush used the background of the National Institutes of Health to ask Congress to approve a $7.1 billion dollar plan to prepare the country for the possible invasion of the bird flu virus.
President Bush: Our country has been given fair warning of this danger to our homeland and time to prepare. It's my responsibility as the president to take measures now to protect the American people from the possibility that human-to-human transmission may occur. So several months ago I directed all relevant departments and agencies in the federal government to take steps to address the threat of avian and pandemic flu. Since that time, my administration has developed a comprehensive national strategy, with concrete measures we can take to prepare for influenza pandemic. Today, I'm announcing key elements of that strategy.
Schmalfeldt: The plan the president announced Tuesday morning would provide funding for early detection, containment and treatment of an outbreak, and would improve the process of stockpiling antiviral drugs and creating flu vaccines. The president pointed to the fact that the avian flu virus, also known as H5N1, has spread to birds in 16 countries, leading to infections in 121 people — 60 of whom died from the virus. Currently the virus is not easily transmitted from birds to humans and there are no indications that it can be transferred from human to human. Dr. David Henderson is Deputy Director for Clinical Care at the NIH Clinical Center. He talked about how the bird flu virus could possibly become a mankiller.
Dr. Henderson: The so-called "shift" of the virus to a different virus would occur if another animal — most frequently this happens in pigs — gets infected with the bird virus while simultaneously being infected with a virus that traditionally infects humans, the same cell gets infected and a re-assortment of the genes of the influenza virus takes place. And what you end up with is a new influenza virus that has the outside antigens that come from the bird flu strain, but all the inner workings of an efficiently transmitted human virus. When we have pandemic shifts, that's how that occurs.
Schmalfeldt: In his speech Tuesday, the president mentioned the efforts being undertaken at the NIH to prevent, detect and treat disease. Doctor Henderson talked about what's being done at NIH institutes like the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases to combat the bird flu virus.
Dr. Henderson: The NIAID has funded a lot of work already to make vaccines for the H5N1 strain in case that becomes a pandemic-like strain. They already have contracts in place to fund the production of vaccines if we need them. There's work going on evaluating dose-reduction strategies that are a similar attack we took for smallpox. When we didn't have enough smallpox vaccine, studies were done to see if we could get away with half the dose, typically, or a tenth of the dose for example. In addition, there are studies evaluating the basic pathogenesis of how the virus works and what we might do to mitigate risk associated with infection. So lots of work is ongoing.
Schmalfeldt: In his remarks at the NIH, President Bush touted the benefits of being ready before the first signs of a pandemic.
President Bush: By preparing now, we can give our citizens some peace of mind, knowing that our nation is ready to act at the first sign of danger and that we have the plans in place to prevent and, if necessary, withstand an influenza pandemic.
Schmalfeldt: Doctor Henderson shared some practical steps folks can take, not just to be ready and watchful should bird flu become a worldwide problem, but during the regular flu season just around the corner.
Dr. Henderson: The CDC has this great concept that they've been promulgating since the SARS epidemic called "respiratory etiquette." It's really a terrific strategy that we all ought to practice all the time, which includes using hand hygiene appropriately. There are these new terrific alcohol-based hand rub products that especially should be used in hospitals. And you should get this year's flu vaccine to prevent what's actually going to spread around in the country that we know about. That vaccine is very effective in preventing transmission of those pathogens.
Schmalfeldt: The president announced a new website for people who want more information about the government's efforts to combat the potential avian flu outbreak. www.pandemicflu.gov is the federal government's official website for information on pandemic flu and avian influenza. For more general information about the bird flu and the regular flu season ahead, visit www.nih.gov. From the National Institutes of Health, I'm Bill Schmalfeldt in Bethesda, Maryland.
About This Audio Report
Reporter: Bill Schmalfeldt
Sound Bite: President George W. Bush, Dr. David Henderson
Topic: Avian Flu