Avian flu continues to spread to bird populations across Europe. As new outbreaks are reported in Turkey and Romania, the United States continues preparations to keep the virus out of this country.
The U.S. government is taking the threat of a bird flu pandemic seriously. Julie Gerberding, head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia, says there is a plan of action to be followed if the deadly virus mutates to a form that can be transmitted from human to human. "Just a few weeks ago," she told NBC News, "the whole Cabinet engaged in avian flu planning got together and walked through the kinds of tough decisions that would have to be made if this really did become an imminent threat."
Dr. Gerberding stressed that the United States would be what she called 'a good international partner' and would try to contain such an outbreak wherever it occurred. And it would take steps to keep the virus out of the United States.
But she says officials do not expect to seal the borders and close the airports. "If our goal is to try to keep something out of the country because it is happening in other places, we might take steps in the very early stage," she acknowledged. "For example, [we might] quarantine someone coming in on a plane who was suspected of being a [carrier of the virus], or putting people in a situation where they're not going to move it from one community to another." But she pointed out that those measures probably would not be very effective once there is an outbreak in the United States. "What we really want to do is use some common sense."
That 'common sense approach' means focusing on the strategies that are the most likely to slow down the spread of the virus through a community, and protect people for as long as it would take to get a vaccine out to the public. "In some cases," she said, "that will involve the early closure of schools. We'll be advising people not to go to work when they're sick, and we're advising businesses now, as well as schools and other organizations, to plan ahead for how they would manage if they have high absentee rates, because we expect that between being sick and being home taking care of children, we will have a lot of people missing work."
The CDC's Julie Gerberding says the United States is planning for the worst-case scenario, but is hoping for the best, knowing that sometimes pandemics aren't as severe as expected.