Government Steps Up Fight Against Flu
CDC Expands Quarantine Capabilities
"People who are expert in influenza do not think it's a question of 'if', they think it's a question of 'when,'" Anne Schuchat, MD, acting director of the CDC's National Center for Infectious Diseases, told members of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.
The H5N1 virus has shown only limited capacity to spread from birds to humans or between humans, an ability that would be key to widespread transmission among humans. But the strain is of particular concern because the U.S. population has essentially no immunity against this virus.
Schuchat said that Bush's executive order is "not an order that we expect to need to use." But, she added, "our area of greatest concern right now is the threat of pandemic influenza."
H5N1 is resistant to amantadine and rimantadine -- antiviral medications used against the flu. According to the CDC, oseltamavir and zanamavir may treat the bird flu caused by the H5N1 virus, but they say studies still need to prove that they work.
Infected birds shed flu virus in their saliva, nasal secretions, and feces, and infections in humans have resulted from contact with infected poultry or contaminated surfaces. Symptoms in humans range from typical flu-like symptoms (fever, cough, sore throat, and muscle aches) to eye infections, pneumonia, and severe respiratory diseases. The illness can be severe and lead to life-threatening complications.
CDC officials announced several weeks ago that they had purchased 2 million doses of bird flu vaccine. The doses are currently being tested for effectiveness at the National Institutes of Health.
But some lawmakers questioned whether federal authorities are acting quickly enough to counteract the risk of infected persons entering the U.S. from overseas.
Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) criticized the Federal Aviation Administration for lacking regulations requiring pilots to check the quality of in-plane air before takeoff for the presence of circulating viruses that could increase the risk that passengers transmit flu or other illnesses after entering the U.S. "We're going to wait for after the fact" to develop standards, he said.
Jon L. Jordan, MD, the air surgeon for the Federal Aviation Administration, said that the vast majority of commercial airliners carry advanced filters capable of sifting out viruses and bacteria. "We haven't seen at this point and time a reason to make a requirement," he said.