Reuters reports that U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt says H5N1 could soon arrive in the U.S. and infect wild birds and possibly poultry as well.
In testimony to a congressional panel on his agency's budget for combating a possible avian flu outbreak among humans, Leavitt told senators that no one knows when or if the virus will pose a threat to people. But, he said, "it's just a matter of time -- it may be very soon" when wild birds and possibly poultry flocks contract the disease.
Leavitt said that infection of birds alone in the United States with the H5N1 virus would not create a public health emergency. Such an emergency would occur if the disease mutated so that it became easily transferred from human to human.
The way the virus is spreading in three continents Leavitt's concerns are warranted. The article also said Democrats believe the Bush administration has not prepared the U.S. for an outbreak of Bird Flu.
Nevertheless, Democrats on the Senate Budget Committee criticized the Bush administration's preparedness, saying not enough federal funds were being allocated for vaccine production, stockpiling other medical supplies, disease detection and community readiness.
"It could be the disaster of our time. Two billion dollars is not enough," North Dakota Sen. Kent Conrad (news, bio, voting record), the senior Democrat on the committee, told Leavitt.
Conrad was referring the $2.3 billion in additional emergency funds the Bush administration has requested from Congress. Late last year, Congress approved a first injection of more than $3 billion in emergency money.
Even if we are lucky enough to avoid human-to-human transmissions the bird flu could still be devastating to bird populations including livestock and birds located in in zoo aviaries.