Detroit Free Press




Bird flu would swamp hospitals

U.S. worst case? 2 million dead, no room for sickest

April 19, 2006



WASHINGTON -- Health care providers from around the nation said Tuesday that hospitals are woefully unprepared for a bird flu outbreak and likely would be overwhelmed by a pandemic.

Their frustration flared as the top federal health official warned that the U.S. government wouldn't be able to assist everyone in the event of widespread infection.

"Any community that fails to prepare with the expectation that the federal government or, for that matter, the state government will be able to step forward and come to their rescue at the final hour will be tragically wrong," Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt said at a conference on emergency preparedness.

W. Frank Peacock, chairman of emergency preparedness at the Cleveland Clinic, said the nation's hospitals can barely handle the surge in patients when the seasonal flu strikes. "The problem is we are just good enough for what happens now," he said.

About 36,000 people die in the United States from seasonal flu each year, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Leavitt predicted a bird flu pandemic could kill 2 million.

Peacock said that if his hospital is overwhelmed with patients, the sickest and hardest to treat "are going to get some morphine and get set in the corner" while patients who are easier to save get treated.

Once those patients are cared for, doctors will come back to the hard cases, but "the possibility is they will not survive," he said.

Panelists said supplies, such as beds, ventilators, masks and the like, would be in short supply. Employees to run the hospitals would also be in short supply, they said.