Flu Epidemic Called Crisis Akin to Nuclear War - KTRE.com | Lufkin and Nacogdoches, Texas

11/01/05 – Washington

Flu Epidemic Called Crisis Akin to Nuclear War

by Brian Ross, ABC News Chief Investigative Correspondent

President Bush's plan to deal with a future flu epidemic will reveal some ugly realities of what could be in store if there is a global breakout of a strain of the Asian bird flu or some other super-strain of influenza.

Parts of major cities would become ghost towns, travel restrictions would go into effect and hospitals would be overwhelmed.

"We get into a realm here of some very ugly scenes," says Dr. Irwin Redlener of the Mailman School of Public Health atColumbia University. "There is most definitely the need to quarantine cities and quarantine people."

The draft of Bush's report predicts as many as 200 million Americans would be infected and 200,000 Americans would die.

"The first thing that would happen is that hospitals all across America would be over full," said Laurie Garrett, Senior Fellow for Global Health at the Council on Foreign Relations. Garrett recently authored "The Next Pandemic?," a lengthy article on avian flu.

Most cities would be expected to use large stadiums as makeshift hospitals, much as hurricane victims were given shelter in New Orleans and Houston.

"Pseudo hospitals," Garrett said of such facilities. "There wouldn't be equipment and personnel to staff them adequately that you could really call them a hospital. You might more or less call them warehouses for the ailing. Very quickly our morgues would fill and we would have no place for the dead."

Public heath officials envision a 21st century version of the worldwide flu epidemic of 1918, that killed more than 500,000 people in the U.S. alone.

"Short of thermonuclear war, I have a hard time imagining anything in my lifetime that would be as horrible," Garrett said.

Copyright © 2005 ABC News Internet Ventures

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