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Easley: More Preparation, Money Needed For Pandemic Flu

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RALEIGH, N.C. — The federal government needs to give states more than the $350 million proposed by President Bush to prepare for a pandemic flu, Gov. Mike Easley said Tuesday.

"From a state perspective, I can tell you that that will not cut it," Easley said. "It is going to take a bigger federal commitment."

Easley made his comments during the state's first flu pandemic summit, where Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt and Education Secretary Margaret Spellings also spoke to public health officials, law enforcement, and business and community leaders.

Leavitt's visit to North Carolina is part of a nationwide tour to talk about a possible flu pandemic. The visits are meant to emphasize the need for state and local communities to begin preparing for a possibly serious threat.

It was held the same day that the World Health Organization announced that the human death toll from the deadly H5N1 strain of bird flu has reached 103 after five people in Azerbaijan died from the disease.

No birds with the H5N1 strain have been detected in the United States, but Bush administration officials have said it's increasingly likely the virus will be found in the United States this year.

Experts fear a pandemic could start if the virus mutates into a form that is passed easily between people. And that pandemic would reach North Carolina, Leavitt said.

Guides prepared by the federal government recommend that people store a supply of water and food; businesses establish plans for flexible work sites; and child-care facilities encourage parents to have alternate day care plans in case they have to close.

During his speech, Leavitt announced that North Carolina will get $2.5 million from the federal government to help with preparedness and said more money will be coming.

But he also warned that any community that relies only on the federal government to pay for its preparations will fall short.

"The uniqueness of a pandemic, it's unlike any other disaster. It lasts a year, not three days. It's everywhere at the same time, not constrained to one area. That's the reason for the summit," Leavitt said. "We simply have no way to respond to 5,000 communities at the same moment."

Easley later said he expected the state to get about $5 million of the $350 million being appropriated to states and while he criticized the federal government for not providing more money, he said North Carolina would be prepared.

"You can rest assured that North Carolina will be as prepared and as ready as is humanly possible in the event of a pandemic," Easley said.

Each year, the seasonal flu kills about 3,600 people in the United States. If a pandemic flu hits, that number could reach as high as 2 million.

North Carolina was one of the first states in the country to create a Pandemic Influenza Response Plan. The plan outlines responsibilities for citizens, local government and state officials and provides details on how public health officials would determine what actions need to be taken to contain the infection.

North Carolina hospitals also share information about flu symptoms on a database that's updated every 15 minutes. The state is working to see that hospitals, schools, businesses and emergency responders are ready to handle a flu outbreak.