Officials race to head off a bird flu pandemic (USAToday)

Health officials from all over the world are scrambling to figure out how to ward off a global outbreak of deadly flu. President Bush, fresh from reading a 546-page tome on his vacation about the 1918 “Spanish flu” outbreak, has been consulting with the heads of vaccine companies, and he warns that the military might be used to enforce quarantines. His administration’s flu battle plan reportedly predicts that almost 2 million Americans could die in a major outbreak.

The dire projections are prompting new anxiety among Americans already reeling from hurricane disasters. But the experts have been warning for years about a possible flu pandemic. Why suddenly are all the government’s alarm bells going off? Are there real reasons to be frightened now? And if there is a flu pandemic, how bad could it be?

Two recent, unrelated events have put the possibility of a flu pandemic into sharp focus:

•An avian flu that had largely been confined to Southeast Asia has spread to Europe and Turkey.
•Two back-to-back hurricanes in the Gulf demonstrated nature’s potential for devastation. (more..)