Transcript: Bird Flu: Coming to America?

This is a partial transcript from "Your World with Neil Cavuto," March 21, 2006, that was edited for clarity.

NEIL CAVUTO, HOST: The World Health Organization confirms five more deaths attributed to bird flu, these in Western Europe. And the White House now saying it's likely the bird flu will land here in America sometime this year.

So, if it hits here, are we ready here?

With us now, Interior Secretary Gale Norton and Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns.

Secretaries, welcome to both of you.


CAVUTO: Secretary Norton, to you first. Are we ready?

NORTON: Well, we have been working together across agencies within the federal government.

The human health issues are being headed up by Mike Leavitt at Health and Human Services. He has been meeting and having summits in every state to talk about the human health issues.

We are working on the early warning system, trying to test migratory birds, to see if they are carrying the avian flu part of this. And it's important to realize right now what we are talking about is just bird flu that is a bird disease, and to not the type of human-to-human spread that is the cause for most concern.

CAVUTO: All right, now, Secretary Johanns, what we worry about in this country, though, is that human-to-human type of transmission. How close or likely could that be?

MIKE JOHANNS, SECRETARY OF AGRICULTURE: We haven't seen any evidence of it anywhere in the world. And there has been a lot of bird-to-bird transmission. So, that's an indication that the virus has not mutated.

Virus do change. We — we know that. Science proves that. But, today, there is no recorded case of human-to-human. And the work we're doing is — as Gale Norton indicates, we are trying to be the early warning. We are testing birds to see if they have that H5N1, high- pathogenic avian influenza in birds.

CAVUTO: All right.

In the meantime, Secretary Norton, there is no cure for this, if you do get it, is there?

NORTON: Well, at this point, you know, it's like any other virus.

It affects different people in different ways. And, at this point, the virus that we're so concerned about has not mutated into existence yet. It is still a concern that is still something that may come about. And we will know more about its capacity when that happens.

When it is in birds, if people take appropriate precautions, for hunters, for those who are fixing poultry, if people just wash their hands and cook food thoroughly, then, that is appropriate precaution.

CAVUTO: You know what I worry about, Secretaries?

And, Secretary Johanns, I will raise this with you.

Just how Americans take that news that it's here, that it is so disruptive that I can picture a lot of people: I'm not going to get chicken at a store. I'm not going to go out. You know, that the panic response is worse than what is justified.

JOHANNS: Well, the best thing we can do is talk about it.

And you cook poultry, you don't get sick. It's as simple as that. Cooking poultry kills the virus. And people are surprised when I tell them this, but we have actually dealt with high pathogenic avian influenza in the United States on three other occasions, most recently 2004.

So, we have practice in this area. We know how to deal with it. We have got a very aggressive plan. And we will implement that plan to deal with any birds that have high-path avian influenza.

CAVUTO: Do you think, in your heart of hearts, Secretary Norton, that this could be the next plague?

NORTON: Well, this is something we want to take precautions against.

And, hopefully, it will not mutate, in the way that has caused concern, and we will have the opportunity to do this planning ahead, so that we are as ready as we can be.

One of the things that I need to mention is that we anticipate that we will get a number of what might be considered false positives as we test birds, and find that they have the family of the disease, but not necessarily the one we're concerned about.

CAVUTO: All right. Secretary Norton, we wish you well, as you return to private life. Thank you.

NORTON: Thank you.

CAVUTO: Secretary Johanns, thank you very much.

JOHANNS: Thank you.

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