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US military begins planning for avian flu pandemic


US military begins planning for avian flu pandemic
by Jim Mannion Thu May 10, 2:27 PM ET

WASHINGTON (AFP) - The US military has begun to plan for a possible avian flu pandemic that could kill as many as three million people in the United States in as little as six weeks, a Pentagon planning document said.

The Defense Department's "Implementation Plan for Pandemic Influenza," which was posted Wednesday on a Pentagon website, lays out guidelines and planning assumptions for US military services and combatant commands.

Possible scenarios include US troops being called in to put down riots, guard pharmaceutical plants and shipments, and help restrict the movement of people inside the country and across its borders.

The plan envisions fast moving, catastrophic waves of disease that would overwhelm health facilities and cripple the ability of state and local authorities to provide even basic commodities or services.

"A pandemic in the United States could result in 20-35 percent of the population becoming ill, three percent being hospitalized, and a fatality rate of one percent," the document said in a section on "planning assumptions."

A human-to-human outbreak of avian flu was most likely to occur outside the United States and may not be contained effectively, it said.

"A pandemic outbreak will last between 6-12 weeks and multiple pandemic waves will follow," it said.

If a pandemic influenza starts outside the United States, it will enter the US at multiple locations and spread quickly to other parts of the country, according to the report.

A vaccine for the specific strain of flu would not be available for distribution for a minimum of six to nine months after a human-to-human outbreak had been clinically confirmed, it said.

Transportation within states or internationally will be restricted to contain the spread of the virus, and communities may voluntarily close schools and limit public gatherings.

"Quarantine and other movement restrictions, especially if the restrictions are involuntary, will have minimal effect on the spread of the disease due to a very short incubation period and the ability of asymptomatic individuals to shed the virus," the document said.

"Military and civilian medical treatment facilities will be overwhelmed," it said.

It said the military will be called on to evacuate non-infected people from areas abroad that are having problems, and to help allies.

But the guidance said the US military's top priority would be to preserve the operational effectiveness of the Defense Department and its forces around the world.

Additionally, the Defense Department will develop a plan to ensure the continuity of operations of the US government and be prepared to support civilian authorities with medical supplies, airlift and security forces.

A key military role will be to distribute medical supplies and medications and provide security for the production and shipment of vaccines on orders of the president.

"When directed by the president, DoD will provide support to civil authorities in the event of a civil disturbance," the document said. "DoD will augment civilian law enforcement efforts to restore and maintain order in accordance with existing statutes."

The military also may assist civil authorities in "isolating and/or quarantining groups of people in order to minimize the spread of disease during an influenza pandemic," it said.