House lead­ers want to up­date flu re­sponse plan

The Washington Times Daily - - POLITICS - BY TOM HOW­ELL JR.

House Repub­li­cans sounded the alarm Fri­day over an avian flu threat that’s crest­ing in China, say­ing it un­der­scores the need to fin­ish and vet an over­due plan for re­spond­ing to pan­demic flu at home.

The H7N9 avian in­fluenza virus mainly af­fects peo­ple who have been ex­posed to live poul­try. It has in­fected nearly 1,000 peo­ple in Asia, and had a 40 per­cent fa­tal­ity rate since its dis­cov­ery in 2013, though the lat­est spurt of cases has been worse than pre­vi­ous ones, ac­cord­ing to the World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion.

House En­ergy and Com­merce Com­mit­tee Chair­man Greg Walden, Ore­gon Repub­li­can, and Rep. Tim Mur­phy, Penn­syl­va­nia Repub­li­can, say it is more im­por­tant than ever to have a solid re­sponse plan in case the virus or other types of pan­demic flu reach the U.S.

Last year, the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion told Congress it was up­dat­ing a decade-old plan to in­cor­po­rate lessons from the U.S.’ brush with the H1N1 pan­demic in 2009. The Health and Hu­man Ser­vices Depart­ment told law­mak­ers it would re­lease the doc­u­ment be­fore the end of last year, but there’s still no plan.

“The need for the up­dated Pan­demic In­fluenza Plan is vi­tal as there is a cur­rent po­ten­tial pan­demic threat,” Mr. Walden and Mr. Mur­phy said in a letter to Health and Hu­man Ser­vices Sec­re­tary Tom Price.

They cited an ex­pert who said that H7N9 poses the largest pan­demic threat in the last 100 years, rais­ing the specter of yet an­other global health scare af­ter re­cent outbreaks of Ebola in West Africa and the mosquito-borne Zika virus in the Amer­i­cas.

WHO, the pub­lic health arm of the U.N., is closely mon­i­tor­ing the sit­u­a­tion in China, where gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials re­cently re­ported 15 new cases in nine sep­a­rate prov­inces.

Of the 11 cases with enough in­for­ma­tion on out­comes, two of the peo­ple had died, one had pneu­mo­nia and seven had se­vere pneu­mo­nia, while one case was con­sid­ered mild.

Twelve of the 15 in­fected per­sons had been ex­posed to live poul­try, and one was ex­posed to live poul­try sold by street ven­dors. It’s un­clear if the re­main­ing two were ex­posed to the virus-car­ry­ing an­i­mals.

All told, WHO says 1,393 lab-con­firmed cases have been re­ported since its dis­cov­ery four years ago.

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