House Republicans sounded the alarm Friday over an avian flu threat that’s escalating in China, saying it underscores the need to finish and vet an overdue plan for responding to pandemic flu at home.
The H7N9 avian influenza virus mainly affects people who’ve been exposed to live poultry. It’s infected nearly 1,000 people in Asia and had a 40-percent fatality rate since its discovery in 2013, though the latest spurt of cases has been worse than previous ones, according to the World Health Organization.
Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Greg Walden, Oregon Republican, and Rep. Tim Murphy, Pennsylvania Republican, say it is more important than ever to have a solid response plan in case the virus or other types of pandemic flu reach the U.S.
Last year, the Obama administration told Congress it was updating a decade-old plan to incorporate lessons from the U.S.’s brush with the H1N1 pandemic in 2009. The Health and Human Services Department told lawmakers it would release the document before the end of last year, but there’s still no plan.
“The need for the updated Pandemic Influenza Plan is vital as there is a current potential pandemic threat,” Mr. Walden and Mr. Murphy said in a letter to HHS Secretary Tom Price.
They cited an expert who said that H7N9 poses the largest pandemic threat in the last 100 years, raising the specter of yet another global health scare after recent outbreaks of Ebola in West Africa and the mosquito-borne Zika virus in the Americas.