City Bird Flu Plan No Guarantee 

That would never happen, said real-life city officials. Chief Administrative Officer William Harrell promptly sent out a press release stating that Richmond is well prepared for such an epidemic.

"Preparedness measures are in place for a prompt response to a citywide outbreak of the virus," the release read. "Within 48 hours of a citywide outbreak, the State's Public Health Department would make sufficient medication available from the Strategic National Stockpile (SNS) to treat the citizens of the city and surrounding area."

Sounds very reassuring. But don't assume you'll be taken care of.

The preventive medication described in the release is not a vaccine against the avian flu. What the city is talking about is an anti-viral such as Tamiflu, which is currently used to treat and prevent ordinary, seasonal flu. It is not a cure for avian flu, nor do scientists know how effective it might be treating such an epidemic.

"It would be used, very possibly, in a prophylactic sense," says Bob Mauskapf, statewide planning coordinator for emergency preparedness.

Training exercises have indicated that Virginia could, in fact, receive doses of Tamiflu or other medication from the Strategic National Stockpile and begin distributing it within 48 hours, Mauskapf says.

But if other places besides Richmond were to experience outbreaks simultaneously, there's no guarantee the government would be able to distribute doses to everyone.

The federal government is currently building a stockpile of Tamiflu, Mauskapf says, with the goal of having 81 million courses available by the end of 2007 — enough to treat more than a quarter of the U.S. population. Currently, 26 million doses are available, Mauskapf says.

No commercially available vaccines for the H5N1 flu virus exist. "A pandemic vaccine cannot be produced until a new pandemic influenza virus emerges and is identified," explains the pandemic flu Web site run by the federal Department of Health and Human Services.

The current turnaround time for developing such a vaccine is estimated at three to six months, with months more required to manufacture and distribute the drug. S

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