Tuesday, May 24, 2005

New York City (almost) gets it

It's nice to see somebody in authority in public health gets it, even if it's a local health department, in this case New York City's.
Infectious-disease experts at the Health Department have been meeting every two weeks to prepare a strategy for protecting the city against diseases such as the Asian bird flu, or H5N1, which many scientists believe is just one crucial mutation away from turning into a monster malady.

The written blueprint, which officials expect to complete before the next flu season starts in late fall, spells out how the agency will tackle potentially controversial measures.

The issues addressed include how to handle quarantines, test virus samples for new strains, cope with overcrowded hospitals and ration lifesaving vaccines and other treatments. (NY Daily News)
At the moment, the only generally available therapeutic agent is the antiviral, Tamiflu (although an inhaled antiviral, Relenza, should be available to a lesser extent). But the US has only purchased enough for about 1% of the population, while the UK, France and New Zealand have ordered enough for 20% of their populations, Canada 17%. London officials have also independently bought 100,000 doses for use with essential personnel (fire, police, transit workers). This is a sensible plan and one New York and other cities should adopt immediately. Health care workers and nurses should be included. By targeting essential personnel there would be enough Tamiflu to go around, but only if plans and distributions are done now. Neither New York nor any other American city has yet to take this step.

The Daily News article suggests that New York's hesitancy is related to not moving ahead of, and hence upstaging, their federal counterparts, upon whom they might depend in a crisis. Wake up, New York. In a crisis the federal authorities will be even more useless than they are now, since demands will be coming from everywhere. They are paralyzed now. What makes you think they will awake from their coma in time to do you any good?