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Congress eyes measures to handle massive flu outbreak

On Wednesday, May 10, the House Government Reform committee plans to hear testimony from witnesses on "Working Through an Outbreak: Pandemic Flu Planning and Continuity of Operations." The Bush administration has released a plan on the federal government's response to pandemic flu but as Hurricane Katrina shows, having a plan on paper is no guarantee that it will work under the stress of a real crisis.

Among the many key questions for the committee to consider are how to sustain a response once key personnel who would have no more natural immunity than the population begin to fall sick from the flu, especially given the impending nationwide shortage of such basic medical equipment as "surgical face masks and…respirators." The Center for American Progress addressed some of these issues in a paper titled "Plugging the Gaps in Biodefense" after the White House first unveiled its plans to cope with a pandemic flu outbreak 18 months ago.

In mid-June, Senior National Security Analyst Andrew Grotto at the Center for American Progress and Jonathan Tucker, a researcher with the Monterrey Institute's Center for Nonproliferation Studies, will release a comprehensive strategy for countering biological threats such as pandemic flu and bioterrorism. Such a comprehensive approach will be needed if the House Government Reform Committee drafts legislation to ensure that in an actual pandemic crisis the federal government is more effective than it was before and after Hurricane Katrina.

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