The initial spread of H5N1 that infected migratory birds left the Americas out of the loop. It is highly unlikely that the highly deadly form of the avian flu virus (H5N1) will be carried the long distance to the Americas by migratory birds.
To date there have been a couple of outbreaks of the milder forms of the avian flu virus in the Americas. There are however no reported outbreaks caused by the H5N1 virus. These milder outbreaks occurred in the past five years and were kept under control and stamped out. In New York in 2003 a patient was determined to have been infected by the bird flu H7N2 virus. In 2004 Canada there was an outbreak of the H7N3 in the poultry in the Fraser Valley region of British Columbia. The H7N3 infected two individuals who reported flu like symptoms. They were treated with antiviral medication which led to their recovery. There also have a few outbreaks among poultry flocks with no transmission to humans. In 2004 in Texas H5N2 was detected in flock of chickens and H7N2 was reported to have infected two chicken farms in Delaware and four live bird markets in New Jersey and a flock in Maryland.
As with any other country in the world the Americas are preparing for a possible pandemic of the flu virus. In the US the Center of Disease and Control (CDC) and United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) are working in concert to prevent and prepare in such a case of an avian flu outbreak. The CDC has set up of the National Pandemic Influenza Preparedness and Response Task Force. CDC is also working the Association of Public Health Laboratories to train laboratory workers in new techniques that are used to identify the H5 viruses. The CDC is also working with the Department of Defense and Veteran Administration on issues relating to stockpiling antiviral drugs. With the WHO, the CDC is working on issues regarding the development of new vaccines to immunize against the bird flu.
The infections of the low pathogenic bird flu viruses in the US were not a serious threat to the Americas, but gave the US a reality check. What effect would the bird flu have on the US? Estimates of the cost of such a pandemic have been estimated to cost between $500 and $675 billion. As the Americas watch, the bird flu already had led to the destruction of millions of chickens and is starting to take a toll on human health. Officials predict that the bird flu would closely resemble the Spanish flu pandemic. The estimation of people that will be infected stands at 30% of the population with two percent succumbing to the disease. This would affect day to day life. Businesses will loose ground as employees fall sick or simply don’t show up to work for the fear of contracting the disease. Hospitals and Doctors offices will be crowded with much of the population seeking medical attention. As the hospitals get crowded and under staffed they may become the hotbed of infections. According to the present the mortality rate of the new bird flu, all infected patients would require to be hospitalized causing an estimated shortage of 6.5 million hospital beds. There will be shortages of police, fire and sanitation workers, this will have an impact local and federal level budgets. There is also the threat of civil disturbances as some people will go into the survival mode resulting in lawless behavior.
The US plan that President Bush revealed involves a seven billion dollar budget and building stockpiles of influenza drugs which will help the compromised patients. The plan assumes the worst case scenario with 92 million people infected.