« Home | Annan Calls for Bioterror Defense Strategies » | Missing anthrax samples found in N.J. » | U.S. Pandemic Draft: News Update from Citizens for... » | Bird Flu Coming to TV in ABC Made-For-Television M... » | Grand Jury Is Investigating Ex-Chief of FDA » | SRI scientists to test anthrax » | Anthrax error in 2004 revealed lab problems » | Indonesians Love Chicken, Bird Flu Scare or Not » | Ex-Head of F.D.A. Faces Criminal Inquiry » | City Plans for Phase II of Avian Flu Preparation »

Military would be called on to help in event of U.S. flu pandemic

Stripes and wire reports

WASHINGTON - A flu pandemic would cause massive disruptions lasting for months, and U.S. cities, states and businesses must make plans now to keep functioning - and not count on a federal rescue, the U.S. government said Wednesday.

President Bush last fall proposed a $7.1 billion plan to prepare for the next worldwide outbreak of a super-strain of influenza. Wednesday's report updates that plan, an incremental step that basically outlines exactly which government agency is responsible for some 300 tasks, many already under way.

Even the most draconian steps, such as shutting down U.S. borders against outbreaks abroad, would almost certainly fail to keep a flu pandemic from spreading here, the report acknowledges - and thus it outlines more limited travel restrictions that would be used instead.

The U.S. military would have a role in the federal government's response to a bird flu pandemic, according to Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman.

Ways in which the military could help in a pandemic include transporting necessary resources using military aircraft; use of medical surveillance and laboratory testing abroad; distribution of pharmaceuticals; providing surge medical capabilities; communications to support civil agencies, and "if necessary, even mortuary affairs assistance," Whitman told Pentagon reporters Wednesday.

U.S. troops might even be used "to provide quarantine assistance to civil authorities," Whitman said. "Obviously, the Commander in Chief can use the military forces in any way that is appropriate."

The plans will take into account not only U.S.-based forces, but also troops overseas, Whitman said, and will detail how commanders intend to "prepare, protect, respond, and recover" from the pandemic event, Whitman said.

The goal is to slow the virus' spread, giving time for the nation to brew protective vaccine, dispense stockpiles of critical medical supplies - and limit the almost inevitable economic and social chaos.

The messy medical reality is that people can spread flu a full day before they show symptoms, meaning even shutting U.S. borders against outbreaks abroad offers no reassurance that a super-strain isn't already incubating here.

The government is preparing for a worst-case scenario of up to 2 million deaths in the United States.

Stripes reporter Lisa Burgess contributed to this report from the Pentagon.