To the editor:
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt has been warning federal, state and local officials about a probable flu pandemic. Unlike natural weather occurrences, which are generally contained in one area and last short periods of time, a flu pandemic knows no border and may continue for months.
So what can we do? President Bush and Secretary Leavitt have been proactive in making the U.S. as prepared as much as it can be. The president has proposed and Congress has partially funded the following priorities:
1. Monitoring disease spread to support rapid response.
2. Developing vaccines and vaccine production capacity.
3. Stockpiling antivirals and other countermeasures.
4. Coordinating federal, state and local preparations.
5. Enhancing outreach and communications planning.
State and local health departments will develop and implement plans for local response, including vaccine distribution and possibly quarantine to help limit transmission. They will also take the lead locally to educate the public within their jurisdictions.
We do not know with certainty when the pandemic flu will strike, but we know that it will. Planning has started, but even if nothing happens for several years the planning will not have been wasted. Our public health system will be stronger and will be better able to serve the people. To learn more about the flu pandemic online, please visit www.pandemicflu.gov.
FRED SCHUSTER, Regional Director, Department of Health and Human Services, Kansas City, Mo.