As flu season goes into high gear in the southern hemisphere, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security is preparing for a potential flu outbreak in the United States, according to its top official.
"Odds are this may not be the 1918-type of virus which was highly lethal and swept through the United States and swept through the world, but we can't count that out," said Janet Napolitano, secretary of Homeland Security. "We need to prepare on all levels, because right now we really don't know."
The Department of Health and Human Services, is currently testing for a safe, available H1N1 vaccine, she said.
Since the illness particularly affects school-age kids, the DHS is working with schools to prepare for high absenteeism and the being able to teach kids who may have to stay at home.
"We need to prepare at all levels, because right now we really don't know," Napolitano said.
U.S. officials say at least 1 million people in the United States have been infected, most with a mild to moderate case. Late in April, President Barack Obama asked Congress for $1.5 billion to pay for swine flu measures.
Meanwhile, the U.S. government will fully pay for any autumn vaccination program against the new H1N1 swine flu, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said Thursday.
Although it is not certain Americans will be offered the vaccine, Sebelius said plans were on track for a mid-October vaccination program. "We have already appropriated about a billion dollars to buy the bulk ingredients," Sebelius told a swine flu "summit" of state and local leaders at the National Institutes of Health.
She said another $7.5 billion was available from emergency preparedness funds.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration said has scheduled a July 23 advisory panel meeting to discuss clinical trials of the vaccines against the H1N1 influenza virus.
Companies working on an H1N1 vaccine include Sanofi-Aventis , Novartis , Baxter International ,GlaxoSmithKline and Solvay.
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