WASHINGTON -- Vaccine improvement is expected to take center stage today in the Bush administration's preparations for a worldwide flu outbreak, with a potential travel ban and restrictions on global commerce part of the contingency planning.
President Bush will announce his strategy on how to prepare for the next flu pandemic -- preparations expected to cost at least $6.5 billion -- whether it is caused by the Asian bird flu or some other super-strain of influenza.
A key element: States and cities will get their first specific instructions from federal health officials on such things as who should get limited doses of vaccines and the antiviral medications Tamiflu or Relenza.
Topping that list are workers involved in manufacturing flu vaccine, health workers caring for the ill, and other first responders such as police and ambulance drivers, said a public health specialist who was shown a recent version of the plan.
More details are to be released tomorrow after Bush's speech at the National Institutes of Health. The president first will stress that it will take more than the federal government to battle a super-flu.
''It's akin to the Rosie-the-riveter type thing, because we are asking every American and every American institution to do quite a bit," said Trent Duffy, a White House spokesman.
Pandemics strike when the easy-to-mutate influenza virus shifts to a strain that people have never experienced before, something that has happened three times in the last century. While it is impossible to say when the next super-flu will strike, officials are concerned that the bird flu strain H5N1 could trigger a pandemic if it mutates to start spreading easily among people. Since 2003, at least 62 people in Southeast Asia, most of whom regularly handled poultry, have died from H5N1.
The nation's strategy starts with attempting to spot an outbreak abroad early and working to contain it before it reaches the United States.
International cooperation ''represents a best hope of stopping the lightning spread of a pandemic," Duffy said. There is a possibility that a pandemic would force restrictions of international travel and commerce, he said.
Meanwhile, nearly three dozen wild ducks have tested positive for the avian influenza in Canada, officials reported yesterday, but they said it was unlikely the ducks carry the strain blamed for the deaths in Southeast Asia.
Dr. Jim Clark of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency said it would take at least a week to determine whether the flu found in 33 ducks from the provinces of Quebec and Manitoba was the deadly H5N1 strain. But it was unlikely to be the same strain because none of the wild ducks tested was ill, he said at a news conference.
''That strain in Asia has caused high mortality in those birds; the birds that tested positive in Quebec and Manitoba are all healthy," Clark said.
He said 4,800 samples had been collected from wild birds in seven Canadian provinces in a study that began before the recent spread of H5N1 from Asia to parts of Europe and Turkey. Clark said it was not surprising to find a variant of the H5 virus in Canada. He said it can be present in at least 7 percent of wild birds in North America at any given time, but in less virulent forms than the H5N1 strain.
Canada had an outbreak of bird flu in 2004, but it was the less harmful H7 virus, which is not believed to pose a serious risk to humans.
About 17 million birds in British Columbia were slaughtered in early 2004 in an effort to stamp out any spread of the virus.