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Pandemic could create serious and sustained food shortages, expert warns.

AC 4-ever
06/16/2005 10:51 PM
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Pandemic could create serious and sustained food shortages, expert warns.
June 16, 2005

[link to www.canada.com]

(CP) - An influenza pandemic would dramatically disrupt the processing and distribution of food supplies across the world, emptying grocery store shelves and creating crippling shortages for months, an expert warned Thursday.

Dr. Michael Osterholm suggested policy makers must start intensive planning to figure out how to ensure food supplies for their populations during a time when international travel may be grounded or severely cut back, when workers are too sick to process or deliver food and when people will be too fearful of disease to gather in restaurants.

Food and other essential goods like drugs and surgical masks will be available at best in limited supplies, Osterholm cautioned in the July/August issue of Foreign Affairs, which devoted a number of articles to the threat of pandemic influenza.

He saved his most flatly worded warning, however, for a news conference organized by the Council on Foreign Relations, which publishes the respected journal. In an interview from Washington following the briefing, he repeated his blunt message of how dire things would be if a pandemic starts in the short term.

"We´re pretty much screwed right now if it happens tonight," said Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota.

Osterholm said the "just-in-time" delivery model by which modern corporations operate means food distribution networks don´t have warehouses brimming with months worth of inventory.

Most grocery store chains have only several days worth of their most popular commodities in warehouses, he explained, with perhaps 30 days worth of stock for less popular items.

He pointed to the short-term shortages that occur when winter storms threaten communities, then suggested people envisage the possibility of those shortages dragging on for somewhere between 18 months and three years as the expected successive waves of pandemic flu buffet the world.

"I think we´ll have a very limited food supply," he said in the interview.

"As soon as you shut down both the global travel and trade . . . and (add to it) the very real potential to shut down over-land travel within a country, there are very few areas that will be hit as quickly as will be food, given the perishable nature of it."

Osterholm has been one of the most vocal proponents of the urgent need to prepare for a flu pandemic that could sicken at least a third of the world´s population and kill many millions. However, he is not alone in fearing the world may be facing a pandemic, widely viewed as the single most disruptive and deadly infectious disease event known to humankind.

The lingering outbreak of the H5N1 avian flu strain that has decimated poultry stocks in wide swathes of Southeast Asia has influenza experts the world over losing sleep over the possibility the highly virulent virus will mutate or evolve to the point where it can spread to and among humans, starting a pandemic.
AC 4-ever
12/08/2005 10:14 AM
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Re: Pandemic could create serious and sustained food shortages, expert warns.
Warnings Grow Dire on Bird Flu Threat

U.S. Officials and Experts Complain of Catastrophic Danger

[link to my.webmd.com]

June 16, 2005 -- U.S. health officials and infectious disease experts have been sounding the alarm for more than a year on the deadly potential of a widespread pandemic of the bird flu troubling Southeast Asia.

But their warnings have become unmistakably ominous as they struggle to convince the public and policy makers of the need to prepare for the mass casualties, chaos, and devastation that will likely result if the disease spreads across the world.

As of June 14, 103 people have been infected with bird flu in Vietnam, Thailand, and Cambodia, according to the World Health Organization. Officials yesterday also disclosed the first reported case in Indonesia.

Normally, 104 cases of any disease would hardly grab the attention of public health experts. But bird flu is different. More than half of the cases have been fatal, suggesting an unprecedented level of harm for a modern flu. Humans have no natural immunity to the virus causing the disease, known as H5N1, and no vaccine is available.

In congressional hearings and on television, officials have repeatedly advised the public of the potential for millions of casualties if bird flu gains the ability to easily spread from birds to people or between humans themselves.

Bird Flu Warnings Get Stronger

But the warnings have now become decidedly darker as officials warn of a catastrophic economic shutdown and a global political crisis if bird flu strikes an unprepared world.

"This is much larger than a public health threat. The vast majority of the world just doesn´t get how vulnerable we are," says Michael Osterholm, MD, associate director of the National Center for Food Protection and Defense in the Department of Homeland Security and a former bioterrorism advisor to the Bush administration.

Federally run tests of an experimental bird flu vaccine are under way and due to yield preliminary results later this summer. Even if it´s effective, no one expects manufacturers to be able to quickly make enough to protect the U.S. population.

Osterholm complains that U.S. officials and companies have not planned for the widespread logistical disruptions that would result if bird flu were to spread within the next couple of years. His warnings range from inadequate planning for hospital overcrowding to the fact that the U.S. market has only 2.5-week supply of caskets.

Local and federal agencies have not planned for widespread disruptions to schools and workplaces as the public is told to stay home and gymnasiums are converted to emergency medical facilities, he says. Travel restrictions and a run on vital supplies, such as masks able to filter flu viruses, would "no doubt" lead to an economic shutdown, he adds.

What to Do?

Asked at a Thursday forum hosted by the Council of Foreign Relations what can be done to immediately prepare for a bird flu outbreak, Osterholm says there´s probably little we can do at this point.

What can the U.S. do to prevent the continued spread of flu from billions of Asian chickens and ducks? "The bottom line message is: almost nothing," says Osterholm, who is also a professor at the University of Minnesota.

World Community Unprepared

Others offer equally stark warnings that the U.S. has not engaged foreign governments over how nations will react in the event of a global pandemic and economic standstill. Poor and middle-income governments have already begun to complain that they are being left out as industrialized countries make deals to buy stockpiles of antiflu medications, says Laurie Garrett, the council´s senior fellow for global health and a former journalist.

"We have no agreed-upon mechanisms of any kind," Garrett says. "This could turn into a big, bloody mess."

Bush administration officials told lawmakers two weeks ago that they are hard at work completing a national flu response plan governing issues such as quarantines, hospital capacity, and distribution of emergency pharmaceuticals.

Anthony Fauci, MD, director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases, acknowledged in an interview that officials´ public statements about bird flu have become unusually stark. He attributes the warnings to concerns over bird flu´s apparent harm and to the lack of human immunity.

Officials are also trying to galvanize support for new laws that would give pharmaceutical companies incentive to produce large amounts of vaccine against bird flu and other more common types of flu. "That´s the thing that we keep trying to drill at," he says.

Fauci says that "the administration is very much up there" in its level of activity in flu planning.

Meanwhile, other experts remain largely unconvinced.

Steven Hoffman, an audience member at the Council forum, rose to say that the experts´ stark warnings had convinced him "to get in my car and move to Montana or something."

"It won´t help," Garrett told him.
Anonymous Coward
12/08/2005 10:14 AM
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Re: Pandemic could create serious and sustained food shortages, expert warns.
If a pandemic begins, countrys will be very quick to close their borders. It might be bad for a country like the US with very little manufacturing and high dependance on imported goods.
AC 4-ever
12/08/2005 10:14 AM
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Re: Pandemic could create serious and sustained food shortages, expert warns.
Avian flu: ´We´re screwed´ if it hits soon

[link to www.usnews.com]

Health experts and officials shook up a breakfast meeting in Washington this morning with more alarm over what they see is an inevitable avian influenza pandemic and public-health emergency. Also today, World Health Organization officials confirmed the first case of avian flu in a farmworker in the island nation of Indonesia. Known as avian flu because it infects primarily chickens and waterfowl, the officials fear that the virus will mutate and become a human disease. Because this strain has never circulated through the human population, people would have no innate immunity if they were infected. Officials compare the virus to the 1918 pandemic that hit one third of the population and killed between 1 and 5 percent of those infected. This strain, known as H5N1, could be at least that deadly and perhaps more so, especially for young and healthy people who would very likely die from an immune system reaction to the disease, as happened in 1918. Today, if the pandemic hit, the number of dead could be as high as 360 million worldwide.

"You can get rid of the ´if´ because it´s going to occur," said Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

It may not occur this year, or next, he said, "but [the threat] is not going to go away." The disease has currently crossed over to humans in Asia, but only among people who have very close contact with chickens or who take care of the sick. It has killed at least 54 people in Asia but is not now communicable in the way that the more common and less lethal human influenza viruses are.

The virus "is due to spin out of this bird population" that it currently infects, said Michael Osterholm, the director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research at the University of Minnesota. When it does, the fast pace of global transportation and trade is sure to carry it around the world in a matter of days if not hours, the officials said. And while most states have plans in place to deal with public-health emergencies, many of those plans have yet to be tested in real or simulated situations. If the pandemic were to hit today, said Osterholm, "I don´t know what we could do about it except say, ´We´re screwed.´"
Stock doc
12/08/2005 10:14 AM
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Re: Pandemic could create serious and sustained food shortages, expert warns.
Buy stock in med supply companies!