This is a partial transcript from "Your World with Neil Cavuto," December 5, 2005, that was edited for clarity.
NEIL CAVUTO, HOST: We are not ready: That's the assessment of the nation's lead doctor, Anthony Fauci, from the National Institutes of Health, talking about the avian flu virus.
On Monday, the Department of Health and Human Services held a meeting of local and state officials to gauge just how prepared we are if a deadly pandemic landed on our shores.
I'm going to be joined very soon by Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt to talk about how we would coordinate this. Of course, this comes at a time when no less than the 9/11 Commission had warned that serious problems remain in coordination among legal authorities in responding to a crisis, and that serious fault lines between police and fire departments could, indeed, create another 9/11-type situation.
But, as for pandemic situation and whether it's a worry, Secretary Mike Leavitt.
Secretary, good to have you.
MICHAEL LEAVITT, SECRETARY OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES: Thank you, Neil.
CAVUTO: How big a deal is this, as far as coordination is concerned?
LEAVITT: Well, it involves every aspect of a community.
You can imagine a situation where local police couldn't respond because 30 percent of them were ill. Or you can imagine a situation where local grocery stores had empty shelves because truckers couldn't drive or wouldn't drive.
You can imagine a situation where power utilities were limited because their operators were not able to work. I mean, you can create a very difficult situation quickly in a pandemic.
CAVUTO: Secretary, first off, let me ask you, what are the odds of a pandemic hitting this country?
LEAVITT: I wish I could express those in mathematics terms. I don't know. Frankly, it's not high in the immediate future, but it's not zero either. And pandemics are such world-changing events when they occur that we have no choice but take this very seriously.
CAVUTO: So, let me ask you. About 100 people have died, mostly in Asia. Have we had any cases of direct human-to-human contact?
LEAVITT: All 130-plus people appear to have received it from animals.
However, there are a couple of cases where there was a person-to- person transmission, but it was because they had very close contact. It has not reached the level of efficiency where there is sustained human-to-human transmission.
CAVUTO: So, I know this comes at a time, sir, when I was just saying, you know, the 9/11 Commission, in releasing its final post-report, if you will, it said that coordination, or the lack thereof, among rescue workers and authorities on the scenes in various parts of the country is still an issue that begs the question of the problems that associated us on 9/11.
Do we have something like that, in other words, a time bomb, on a pandemic front that might be facing us, in other words, poor coordination among authorities in different cities, different states?
LEAVITT: Well, first of all, let me clarify one thing.
We know, with certainty, there will be a pandemic at some point. It may not be the H5N1 virus that scientists are currently worried about. But, ultimately, there will be a pandemic flu, and we will have to deal with it in a world that is much different than the last time we had one.
We have global travel that is much more complex. We have 24-hour news cycles, like this station and others, that will very quickly begin to communicate the news. All of that adds up to a situation that could be quite confusing to people. And communication and coordination and clear divisions of labor are of the utmost importance.
For that reason, we have begun to work in a very focused way with local and state governments to clarify what the role is of a local government, of a state government, and the federal government, what businesses can do to help themselves, what school districts should do in that situation...
CAVUTO: But they don't know, right, Secretary? I mean, despite your best efforts, I mean, in my town, they don't know, for example, what the state task force is doing, or, for that matter, what neighboring states are doing, everybody is sort of like running around like the Keystone Cops, right?
LEAVITT: I believe it's safe to say that we are overdue for a pandemic and we are unprepared. And, therefore, it's incumbent upon us to begin to improve...
CAVUTO: I'm sorry, sir, but when you say overdue for a pandemic, along the lines of what happened in 1918?
LEAVITT: In the last 300 years, we have documented 10 of these.
In the last 100, there have been three of them, 1918, 1957, and 1968. All three of those in this century were of different variety and had different impacts. Nineteen eighteen was one of the most significant public health events, one of the most widespread human disasters in recorded history.
The virus that we are currently worried about is a direct descendant of that virus. In fact, it genetically bears resemblance. It would be much different than if it were be to be caused by one of its cousins, the 1957 or '68. We don't know what the virus will be. We do know that, ultimately, we will have one.
CAVUTO: All right. Secretary Leavitt, hopefully, you are wrong, but history proves you will probably be right -- Secretary Leavitt in Washington.
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