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Hannity

Health Secretary Discusses Bird Flu Fears

This is a partial transcript from "Hannity & Colmes," March 16, 2005, that has been edited for clarity.

ALAN COLMES, CO-HOST: Welcome back to "Hannity and Colmes." The avian flu virus has spread across Europe, taken hold in Africa and in recent weeks, flared once again in Asia. According to the World Health Organization the virus, which mainly affects birds, has already killed 98 people worldwide. How prepared are you for a possible pandemic? The secretary of Health and Human Services says you should stock up on canned tuna and powdered milk. Secretary Mike Leavitt joins us now.

Mr. Secretary, thank you for being with us. How serious a threat is this? Should humans get ready for this possibility in the United States?

SECRETARY MICHAEL LEAVITT, HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES: Well, pandemics happen. They have happened for centuries and there is no reason to believe that the next century will be different than the past. We have had three pandemics in the last 100 years, 10 of them in the last 300 years. They have defined human history over the course of well all of human history.

COLMES: Do you think that's going to happen? Dr. Robert Webster of St. Jude's Children's Hospital has noted that scientists say we can't get our heads around losing 50 percent of the population, but we should be prepared for the worst. Is he being an alarmist?

LEAVITT: Well, the problem with a pandemic is anything that's said before a pandemic happens seems alarmist and anything that we have done before it starts seems inadequate or after it starts. But Dr. Webster is one of the most respected scientists in this field in the world. Now, there are many who believe that actual death rates would be substantially lower than that. And there is a lot of reason to believe, looking at pandemics in the past, that there is great variability in how sick people become, but pandemics do happen and in terms of history, we are overdue and we are under prepared.

COLMES: Dr. Webster says he's stocked up. He's got the powdered — he's got all the powdered milk and the tuna and everything. Should Americans be doing that? Should we be stocking up for the next few months?

LEAVITT: I have been chuckling about that tuna and dried milk all week. It isn't bad advice to have some food, to have some water, to have a first aid kit. This is basic preparedness. It's the same preparation that we would make for an earthquake or for a bioterrorism event or a nuclear event or a bad storm out on the plains of South Dakota. There are a lot of reasons to have that kind of supply ready in our home so that we are prepared and self-reliant.

SEAN HANNITY, CO-HOST: Are you prepared? Have you stocked up on food, water, supplies and for how long would you be able to survive?

LEAVITT: Well, we have. Our family has done this as a matter of course for some time. It's good advice. It's advice that's been given by the Department of Homeland Security for some time as part of their individual preparedness.

HANNITY: In 1918, the last big pandemic, there were two others. But in 1918, 40 million people worldwide died. This guy Webster says there is a 50/50 chance this virus mutates and it could go human to human. Do you agree with that assessment?

LEAVITT: Dr. Webster, as I indicated is one of the best scientists in the world. I have asked scientists all over the world the same question. Very few are able to say. No one really knows. What we do know is that pandemics happen and at some point whether it's this H5N1 virus or whether it's a future virus, we will have another pandemic and we need to be prepared. But it's very possible we could have other disasters before that.

HANNITY: Well, how many people are we talking about possibly getting this flu virus in the United States and worldwide? How many could die and what are the chances we can get a vaccine for this and how long would that take?

LEAVITT: It would depend of course on the type of virus ultimately that began to cause the pandemic. If it were like 1918, it would be a very serious situation.

HANNITY: How many people?

LEAVITT: We could have as many as 90 million people in this country who would be sick.

HANNITY: That's nearly, more than about half the country.

LEAVITT: Well then we would have about half of those who would be sick seriously enough that they would need medical attention in a hospital in a clinic or by a doctor and regrettably, it would be about 2 million people. So this is serious business and something that we have to take seriously.

HANNITY: All right. Can we get a vaccine and we don't have much time and when you talk about quarantine, social separation? Life as we know it changes radically, no?

LEAVITT: The good news is we do have the capacity to make vaccines. The bad news is we won't be able to make the vaccine until we actually know what the virus is and we don't have sufficient capacity right now to make 300 million courses, which is what we would be needing for this country. So, we have some work to do, but that's the reason the president has been so aggressive in putting forward a budget to change it.

COLMES: Mr. Secretary, we thank you very much for being with us tonight. Thank you for your time sir.

LEAVITT: Thank you.

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