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Welcome to "Ask the White House" -- an online interactive forum where you can submit questions to Administration officials and friends of the White House. Visit the "Ask the White House" archives to read other discussions with White House officials.

Dr. Julie Gerberding
Director, CDC; Administrator, ATSDR
November 1, 2005

Dr. Julie Gerberding
I appreciate the opportunity to answer your questions today about one of the most important public health issues we face today and that is the threat of global outbreak of influenza commonly referred to as a pandemic. Many of you are learning more and more about the outbreak of H5N1 influenza in birds in Asia. This is still primarily a disease among animals and not people and we simply can’t say whether this virus will emerge to cause a pandemic in humans. But we must be prepared and the strategy the President discussed today is a huge step in the right direction to help get us better prepared. Let's get started with your questions.

Nicole, from Seattle writes:
What is our country doing to be prepared for the possible outbreak?

Dr. Julie Gerberding
Thanks for your question, Nicole. Point number one is that right now our main focus is seasonal flu which is here and we are, of course, as always encouraging people to receive influenza vaccines for that condition. The potential for a pandemic influenza related to avian influenza in Asia is something that is also of high priority for preparedness.

This morning, at the National Institutes of Health, the President outlined three main things we are doing to prepare for a pandemic. Number one, we are investing in our abilities to detect emerging pandemic influenza wherever it occurs. Number two, we’re investing in the development of vaccines and anti-viral drugs so that all Americans can be protected from that problem. Number three, we’re working with people, families, local and state governments, as well as the federal government to ensure that we have a seamless network of protection for everyone in our country.

Sarah, from Texas writes:
Dr. Gerberding-My question is do you really think there is a serious threat of avian flu in the United States, and if so what will be the best way to prevent and treat it? Thank you.

Dr. Julie Gerberding
Right now, the H5N1 avian flu is primarily a problem for birds. It is not a pandemic and there is no evidence at the current time that it will ever be a pandemic but we have to be prepared. It’s possible that this virus, which has only occasionally infected people with high mortality rates, could evolve to become more contagious and that is why we are really scaling up our efforts to be prepared.

Guo, from China writes:
We have had several bird flu cases in our country. I am sure that this disease will jump into peaple. What can we do to protect our family? we know avian flu is a worldwide problem. Is it possible that we can overcome it quickly?

Dr. Julie Gerberding
In areas where the avian flu virus is affecting chicken and other poultry, it is extremely important that people take measures to avoid having direct contact with birds, particularly sick birds. So, for people who have pigeons, ducks or geese in their yards, certainly wash hands after having any contact with those animals and avoid all contact with sick birds and be sure to let local authorities know if there is a sick bird in your vicinity. We also recommend that people thoroughly cook their meats and not eat raw or undercooked chicken or other poultry and again, if they themselves become ill with a serious respiratory illness to let the local health authorities know immediately.

Chaim, from Los Angeles, California writes:
Dr. Gerberding, doesn't the bird flu hit birds every year or two? Is there some kind of urgency now or business as usual?

Dr. Julie Gerberding
Migratory birds typically carry a variety of bird flu strains. What’s different this time is that the strains are carrying the H5N1 strain, which is highly contagious to poultry, but more importantly, it's highly lethal to poultry. So, it is not only easily transmitted to a variety of bird species but when most birds get it, they die.

Howard, from New Haven, CT writes:
Where did the avian flu originate? If I were to travel next month to China, where several cases of avian flu have been reported, or other affected countries, is it safe? What precautions should I take?

Dr. Julie Gerberding
The avian virus that we are concerned about right now - the H5N1 virus - probably emerged in migratory birds, is typical and we’ve seen this happen before, but, again it’s highly contagious and lethal to birds. People traveling to areas of the world that have bird flu outbreaks should avoid any contact with poultry and should certainly stay away from the live poultry markets where birds and people come into close contact. There is no danger from eating poultry, and certainly, properly cooked poultry poses no health hazards as long as proper food hygiene practices are followed. So, we don’t need to be worried about consumption of poultry, just contact with sick birds or birds in regions where the virus is common.

Joel, from Superior, Wisconsin writes:
How will the administration secure enough vaccinations, if an avian influenza pandemic occurs?

Dr. Julie Gerberding
The President has proposed a phase strategy. Initially, we are procuring enough H5N1 vaccines to treat 20 million people. This vaccine is made from an early form of H5N1 and it probably will give partial protection to a strain that emerges in the future. So, it’s not the perfect solution but it gets us started. In the meantime, the second phase of his strategy is to modernize our vaccine production so we can quickly develop enough vaccine for every person in America and we can do it using modern methods that don’t rely on eggs or other vaccine productions that are antiquated.

Darleen, from Crystal Lake, IL writes:
I am wondering how to protect myself and my family. Will taking the flu shot that is being given out right now protect or help protect against the bird flu? Also, would taking the pneumonia shot that is available right now protect or help protect dying from the bird flu? If so, are there any particular risks of these shots that we should know of so that we can make an informed decision?

Dr. Julie Gerberding
Right now, Americans are not at risk for pandemic avian influenza and there is no need for vaccination against that virus. However, regular seasonal flu is here in America and we are encouraging Americans to get their regular flu shot. The flu shot that we are offering this year does not protect against the avian strain, but it’s very important that people at risk for flu complications get their flu shots this year because it will protect them.

Overall, this year, we have a good supply of flu shots. We are not expecting any shortages, but we know that in some communities, some physicians haven’t received their vaccine supply yet from the manufacturers so those having difficulty locating flu shots should be sure to check with their local health officials because they will know where the vaccines will be available.

Sam, from Greensboro, NC writes:
Hi Dr. Gerberding, There has been a lot of talk lately about the Avian Flu, but it has recently been suggested by experts (and some administration officials) that the danger has been overstated. Do you think that this danger is really as imminent as many people believe? What do you think is the chance of a major outbreak in the US over the next few years? How does the risk of an outbreak in America compare to the risk in Europe? Thanks

Dr. Julie Gerberding
We’ve had three pandemics of influenza in the last century. One of them, the 1918-19 flu pandemic, was catastrophic. Right now, we do not have a pandemic. We have an avian influenza virus that only occasionally affects people and is not easily transmitted from one person to another. However, one thing w know about flu viruses is that they are unpredictable and it’s certainly possible that this virus could evolve and become more transmissible and set off the beginning of a potential pandemic. We can’t predict how likely that is. We can’t predict whether the next pandemic will be associated with this particular avian virus or some other strain of flu but we do know that it is more likely than not that someday a pandemic will occur and so the steps that we are taking to prepare for an avian pandemic will certainly help protect us whenever the next pandemic influenza strain occurs.

Dr. Julie Gerberding
Thank you so much for all of your terrific questions. Again, I'd like to stress that right now there is no pandemic but seasonal flu is here, so be sure to get your flu shot. Secondly, while we can’t predict whether we will actually have a pandemic, the preparations we are taking now will help protect us from future potential influenza pandemics. For those looking for more information on the avian flu or preparations, please visit I also encourage you to visit the CDC website at, as well as read the President's National Strategy for Pandemic Influenza located at

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