The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Joplin Metro

May 17, 2007

Speaker: Government doing little to prepare for next flu pandemic

By Wally Kennedy

wkennedy@joplinglobe.com

Participants at the Pandemic Planning Conference on Thursday at Missouri Southern State University learned that they are pretty much on their own when it comes to planning for the next killer flu.

The keynote speaker, Gregory Evans, director of the Institute for Biosecurity at Saint Louis University, said: “The federal government should be doing more research to answer many of the questions that you have when planning for the next pandemic.

“Since that is not happening, you really need to do as much at the local level as possible to get ready. We have to depend on ourselves and not expect the feds to be there for us.”

The federal government has known about H5N1, the virus that causes bird flu and the most likely culprit for the next pandemic, since 2003, Evans said. But, the government is suffering from what he described as “preparedness paralysis.”

In addition, he said, the public has become complacent because the H5N1 virus has not grabbed headlines of late.

“This is a very bad virus and one we need to worry about,” Evans said. “H5N1 continues to spread, and eventually it will get to the United States. The more it spreads, the more opportunity it has to mutate (into a virus that spreads from human to human).”

He said experts think the mutation that will allow the virus to spread from human to human is likely to occur in Asia, but he noted that no one knows where that mutation might occur. He pointed to historical evidence indicating that the Spanish flu of 1918-19 that killed 500,000 people in the United States started in Kansas and was spread to Europe by soldiers in World War I.

“Nearly half of those killed were healthy adults between the ages of 18 and 44. H5N1 attacks the young, too,” he said. “Since 2003, there have been 278 human cases of H5N1 and 168 deaths. That’s a death rate of over 50 percent.”

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