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June 6, 2005
Grounding a Pandemic
By BARACK OBAMA and RICHARD LUGAR
Washington — When we think of the major threats to our national security, the first to come to mind are nuclear proliferation, rogue states and global terrorism. But another kind of threat lurks beyond our shores, one from nature, not humans - an avian flu pandemic. An outbreak could cause millions of deaths, destabilize Southeast Asia (its likely place of origin), and threaten the security of governments around the world.
Earlier this year, Dr. Julie L. Gerberding, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, called the possibility of avian flu spreading from Southeast Asia "a very ominous situation for the globe." A killer flu could spread around the world in days, crippling economies in Southeast Asia and elsewhere. From a public health standpoint, Dr. Gerberding said, an avian flu outbreak is "the most important threat that we are facing right now."
International health experts say that two of the three conditions for an avian flu pandemic in Southeast Asia have already been met. First, a new strain of the virus, called A(H5N1), has emerged, and humans have little or no immunity to it. Second, this strain can jump between species. The only remaining obstacle is that A(H5N1) has not yet mutated into a form that is easily transmitted from human to human.