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Americans Get Ready for Bird Flu

The World Health Organization says the deaths of five people in Azerbaijan have pushed the world total human deaths from H5N1 bird flu past 100. Experts say it is only a matter of time before the virus spreads to the United States. Federal, state and local officials, companies, schools and individuals are trying to prepare for it. VOA's Mohamed Elshinnawi has more.

The United States Congress allocated $3.3 billion this year to protect Americans against bird flu. Half of that money is for vaccines, starting with the one that fights the Vietnamese version of bird flu.

U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt is relatively optimistic. "No one in the world is well prepared for a pandemic. We are better prepared now than before and we will be better prepared in the future than we are now. But it is a continuation of preparation."

The Secretary authorized work to begin on a second vaccine based on another form of bird flu.

Dr. William Schaffner of the Vanderbilt Medical School says if either form strikes, Americans will have to take a wide range of measures. "We will be staying home, concerts won't be going on. We might close schools in some communities."

Some schoolteachers are planning on teaching courses over the Internet. Schoolteacher Paula Carreiro says, "They have been tasked with planning curriculum if the school should ever need to close for two weeks or two months."

Some Americans are stocking up on anti-viral medications such as Tamiflu, but Dr. Anthony Fauci of the National Institute of health says that is not certain to work. "We don't know how well it's going to respond or work or be helpful in pandemic circumstances."

One other possibility is buying masks to cover the nose and mouth.

Dr. Schaffner adds, "I think it's likely that they offer some protection. They don't have any side effects."

The best advice for protection may be the one offered by the Centers for Disease Control, and a lot of mothers: Wash your hands a lot.