Health Departments Prepare for Possibility of Bird Flu

Health Departments Prepare for Possibility of Bird Flu

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Amanda Butterfield reporting The avian flu, or bird flu, is a deadly virus making its way though Asia. Sixty people and millions of birds in Asia have died.

Now the worry is that it could hit the U.S., and federal officials are telling local health departments to get ready.

For the past five years, the Utah Department of Health has been preparing for a disease outbreak like this. We'll take a look at Davis County, where the health department would have to treat about a quarter of a million people. But they say they're ready.

Inside boxes and bins are everything the Davis County Health Department needs if they get the word the avian flu is here, and they need to set up clinics to administer vaccinations.

Lewis Garrett: "I think we are prepared as can be under the circumstances."

And they've already had some practice with a meningitis scare last spring.

Lewis Garrett/Davis County Health Director: "Provided antibiotics and vaccinations for students and faculty at Clearfield Job Center."

About 18-hundred people were treated, a job well done for the county. And Garrett says they would do just as good a job in the case of the avian flu, if they have enough of the vaccine.

"We can't do anything until we get the vaccine in hand."

The government has ordered two-million doses of it. But Health Secretary Michael Leavitt, who is in Southeast Asia boosting efforts to fight the flu, says it may not be enough.

Michael O. Leavitt/ U.S. Secretary of Health: "We don't have sufficient manufacturing capability because of the amount that it takes to create a vaccine for even every person in the United States, let alone the world."

Not what experts want to hear, who are predicting that if the flu comes to the States, it could kill up to two million Americans in the first year.

Michael Leavitt: "The likelihood of it happening is unknown to us."

"There will be, at some point in the future, another pandemic."

Garrett agrees, but says we need to keep this in perspective.

Lewis Garrett: "Chances are it wouldn't happen in Farmington."

Across the country, doctors offices, laboratories, and clinics are monitored closely, so if the bird flu arrives, they'll know about it.

A Utah committee is finalizing response plans in case it hits. Those plans could be released this month.

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