New York officials unveiled an emergency response plan to limit the havoc a global flu pandemic might wreak on one of the world´s densest, busiest cities.
The plan, drawn up by the Department of Health with input from all the main city agencies, covers critical health areas involved in a pandemic, including disease monitoring, laboratory capacity, vaccine and medicine delivery, as well as hospital preparedness.
"We have to be ready for the possibility -- no matter how remote," said New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
The contingency blueprint addresses how the city would implement infection control, address surge capacity in hospitals and enact disease containment measures like closing schools or limiting public gatherings.
Health Commissioner Thomas Friedman said even the best-laid plans could not prevent the social and economic chaos a pandemic would bring, but they could help lessen the impact.
"Without a vaccine, and with medications of limited supply and effectiveness, traditional measures of reducing disease spread -- such as covering your mouth when you cough or sneeze, or staying home from work or school if you have fever -- would be crucial," Friedman said.
The plan envisages a worst-case scenario of widespread, serious illness that significantly impacts all sectors of society for at least several months.
The health care system would be overburdened and there could be dramatic reductions in workforce availability in all sectors as employees become ill or remain home to care for sick family members
Some of the measures included in the blueprint have been worked out from large-scale emergency response exercises to a simulated biological attack on the city.
The new plan is essentially a response to the spread of the deadly H5N1 bird flu virus which has been found in 60 countries in the past two and a half years.
Although the H5N1 virus does not spread easily between people, those who come in contact with sick birds can contract it, and scientists fear a pandemic if it mutates into a disease transmissible between humans.