HHS to lead response if flu strikes

WASHINGTON: If and when a flu pandemic strikes the US, communications will be the first pillar of the response from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

WASHINGTON: If and when a flu pandemic strikes the US, communications will be the first pillar of the response from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

The agency released its preparedness plan this month after submitting a draft for public comment in September 2004.

It is intended for any influenza or terrorist crisis, and builds on lessons learned during SARS, an agency representative told PRWeek last year.

The final draft also includes specific recommendations for dealing with bird flu, ensuring for instance that there is public education for people who handle animals.

The plan divides outreach responsibilities among state and national officials, and suggests they establish "thresholds and triggers" to determine when they would implement the plan.

It also emphasizes the need to train the medical community as spokespeople and set up a communications "network," to counter rumors and address critics

Materials for the media include a guidebook with press contacts at each state's health department as well as information for reporters on how to protect their own health while reporting the story.

President Bush has allocated $555 million of the $7.1 billion flu preparedness budget for public health infrastructure and communications.

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