U.S. Sen. Evan Bayh, D, Ind., sponsored an amendment to the Department of Defense appropriations bill that would create an emergency fund to be used in the event of an outbreak of avian flu. The Senate approved the amendment late last week.
"Passage of this amendment is a major step forward in our efforts to prepare the country for a possible flu pandemic," Bayh said in an address on the Senate floor. "I will continue working with my colleagues to ensure that we are ready should the threat of avian flu become a reality."
According to the Centers for Disease Control website, avian flu "is an infection caused by avian influenza viruses." The virus occurs naturally in most wild birds, spreading freely among them and rarely causing illness. Exposure in domesticated birds, however, can cause sickness and death.
One hundred fifteen cases of infection in humans have been reported in Asia, 59 of which resulted in death. Concern has mounted in recent months over the potential for a worldwide outbreak, or pandemic, of avian flu.
"Previous influenza epidemics have been catastrophic, killing ... millions of human beings," Bayh said. "We cannot afford to wait for that kind of an event to occur."
Brazil physician Dr. S. Rahim Farid doesn't see avian flu as an immediate threat.
"If it is anything, it's a 2010, 2011 issue," he said. "I don't think it will be an issue in the U.S. for some time."
Farid stressed that there is no correlation between avian flu and the strain of influenza Americans are familiar with, and expressed concern that recent publicity of bird flu will create an unreasonable demand for standard influenza vaccines.
"Because of the public awareness as a result of the avian virus, people will think this is the answer," he said.
According to Farid, no effective vaccine for the avian virus has yet been formulated. He feels excessive media coverage of bird flu is irresponsible, given the lack of an effective treatment for infection in humans.
"If you don't have a treatment, why are you making people scared?" he said.
No cases of human-to-human transmission of avian flu have yet been recorded. Until then, Farid said, there is little cause for worry.
"I appreciate Sen. Bayh's concern, which stimulates action in the system," he said, "but don't panic."