Government, airlines tighten security to meet potential flu pandemic

Published 9 January 2006

Government and airlines are taking early measures to cope with avian flu pandemic; some critics say more needs to be done, but all agree that preparations are much better than was the case in Katrina

Maybe it is human nature, maybe it is the result of the adversarial relationship between journalism and government which is the result of Vietnam and Watergate way back then. Whatever the reason, it appears that journalists and analysts find it easier to criticize the hard-working people in our government who labor under difficult conditions, tight budgets, and the microscopes of journalists who are not always knowledgeable or fair. So today we begin with a story which shows that the government does many things right.

The SARS threat of a couple of years ago, the current avian flu menace, and the lack of preparedness before Hurricane Katrina last fall have caused aviation and government officials more urgently to consider a possible health crisis, especially with global business and travel becoming ever more common. Stricter monitoring of borders, improving the system of locating travelers after they have entered the country, coordinating first responders, and stockpiling the best available treatments are among the steps being taken or studied. Handling some of the measures are twenty-five quarantine stations being opened or expanded at airports that are portals for nearly two-thirds of U.S. international travelers, or nearly seventy-five million people. At one such center at Washington Dulles International Airport, two health officers working for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) will monitor for avian flu, other infectious diseases and bioterrorism threats.

Analysts say that the airlines and travel industry are still too tight-lipped about potential risks to passengers, and that the government can do more to inform the public about the risks of avian flu; there is also the question of the availability of medication. On the whole, though, they agree that, relative to previous potential disasters, the U.S. government is moving with greater alacrity and determination to prepare for a flu pandemic.

-read more in Meredith Cohn’s detailed Baltimore Sun