Bird Flu Threat
Spurs Companies and States to Prepare For Avian H5N1 Influenza Pandemic
May 19th 2006
Marlton, N.J. - Although the jury is still out on the likelihood and
potential severity of an outbreak of bird flu among humans in the United
States, some companies and states are playing it safe now in the event
the disease migrates to our country sooner than later.
IBM announced on May 15 a new cooperative effort with health authorities
to use technology it developed to stem the spread of bird flu and other
infectious diseases. As part of the effort, IBM will donate software
that enables health experts in different countries to share data, track
the geographic spread of diseases, and predict how the bird flu virus
might mutate into a form that is deadlier to people, according to the
San Jose Mercury News.
Participants in the Global Pandemic Initiative include the World Health
Organization, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and
businesses and universities.
IBM scientists in New York are also working with Scripps Research
Institute to create computer technology that can predict how bird flu
might mutate and become more lethal to people. These predictions could
help in the development of effective bird-flu vaccines.
While IBM is preparing to track disease trends, the owner of a New
Jersey company specializing in protective gear warns that it's important
to get ready now in the event of an outbreak. Stephen Guarino, CEO of
Global Protection, believes that employers and consumers should prepare
their businesses and homes in case the virus switches from posing a
terrible hazard to birds to becoming a real threat to humans.
"Viruses mutate and, if this one does, it will join the human flu virus,
change its genetic code and emerge as a new and deadly flu that can
spread through the air from human to human. If the virus does mutate, it
does not necessarily mean it will be as deadly to people as it is to
birds. But private citizens, the government, businesses, schools and
hospitals must prepare for the worst," says Guarino.
Global Protection in Marlton, N.J., sells protective kits, including
protective suits, gas masks and other equipment used to guard against
chemical, biological and nuclear threats, to industry and consumers at
The avian influenza virus currently is confined to birds. It can,
however, be transmitted to humans, but only if people come into direct
contact with the droppings and excretions of infected birds. If there is
an outbreak of bird flu among the U.S. population, some scientists
predict a worst-case scenario of 20 million Americans affected, 2
million dead, and schools and businesses shut down to prevent the spread
of the disease.
"If H5N1 virus were to gain the capacity to spread easily from person to
person, a worldwide outbreak of disease could begin. No one can predict
when a pandemic might occur. However, experts from around the world are
watching the H5N1 situation in Asia and Europe very closely and are
preparing for the possibility that the virus may begin to spread more
easily from person to person," says Guarino.
"Get ready now in the event of an outbreak. Many employees might opt to
stay at home and the ones who do go to work will need the appropriate
protection to minimize their risk of exposure to the disease."
Some corporations, he reports, are considering budgets of $50 million to
$200 million for gear and equipment to protect their employees.
"Many companies are ensuring that they have large quantities of
respirators, disinfectants, rubber gloves and similar products readily
available in large quantities and others are preparing work-at-home
plans," says Guarino. "Families should have some personal protection
equipment on hand too."
Taking responsibility into its own hands, the state of Vermont
recommends that communities start preparing for an avian flu pandemic.
At a regional summit May 16, officials from the state departments of
Health, Agriculture, Emergency Management, and Homeland Security
explained the facts about bird flu, how the state is preparing for an
outbreak among residents, and what people should do to keep their towns
running if people get sick.
Nancy Erickson, communications director at the Department of Health,
says the goal of the summit was to raise awareness about the possibility
of a pandemic. "We need to not over-assure, not overly alarm, but we
need to inspire people to prepare."
Officials in Houston and El Paso, Texas, are also gearing up for a
potential bird flu pandemic. At a meeting with 100 officials from
public, private and charter schools in the Houston area, Elizabeth Love,
chief of the Harris County Public Health and Environmental Services,
urged schools to begin work on a plan for dealing with an outbreak.
"School-age children may have the highest illness rate in a pandemic
situation, some estimate up to 40 percent," says Love, whose agency will
provide schools with materials, checklists, resources and contact
numbers to help them develop their plans.
El Paso business leaders learned about the bird flu and how to keep the
workplace safe at the Get Informed conference. Attendees were encouraged
to devise an emergency plan, including procedures for maintaining
business continuity if employees are sick and unable to go to work.
offers first responder protective gear that includes protective suits, gas
masks and a variety of equipment used for protection against chemical,
biological and nuclear threats. U.S. government agencies, police and fire
first responders, companies and individuals rely on Global Protection to
provide the leading products to protect against potential chemical warfare
agents, biological warfare, and terrorist threats such as anthrax, smallpox,
and nerve gas.
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