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White House Releases Bird Flu Plan

President Bush is instructing health officials to stockpile anti-viral drugs in preparation for a possible outbreak of Avian Flu. Scientists expect the flu to show up in American wild birds this year.

Homeland Security Adviser Fran Townsend says there is no sign of Avian Flu in America, but the nation cannot afford to be complacent.

"We are not in the midst of a human pandemic, but we cannot predict when one will happen, this is why it is important for everyone to prepare," said Fran Townsend.

The Bush Administration is preparing by stockpiling medicine and asking business leaders and local officials to plan for an outbreak that could see up to 40 percent of workers absent for up to two weeks.

The White House's National Strategy for Pandemic Influenza includes plans to slow the arrival and spread of the virus, protect human health by limiting exposure, and ensure civil order and public safety.

Townsend says as part of its effort to prevent and contain outbreaks abroad the White House is pledging $334 million to strengthen international efforts to combat the virus.

"Minimizing the opportunities for the virus to mutate and helping other nations to prepare should a pandemic virus emerge is a global responsibility and is also the first line of defense for the United States," she said.

Townsend says scientists believe it is likely the virus will appear in wild birds in America later this year. But that does not represent a threat to human health or domestic poultry she says, because policies are in place to limit contact between wild and domestic birds.

Following the government's poor response to the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the Bush Administration is under pressure to demonstrate its preparedness for a flu pandemic that it says could kill between 200,000 and nearly two million people, depending on its virulence.

Opposition Democrats say the president is moving too slowly. Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy says the plan is too little, too late.

"Today we are releasing a report showing that they have failed to take the steps needed to see that America is ready for this major national challenge," said Ted Kennedy. "They have failed to invest in hospital surge capacity, in needed information technology, in the public health surveillance and in the training programs that are needed for an effective response."

The H5N1 strain of avian flu has spread from Asia across Europe and into parts of Africa. It does not easily infect humans, but since 2003 it has sickened about 200 people and killed more than 100.