Dausey: U.S. not prepared for flu pandemic

David J. Dausey, an internationally known public health scholar, said on Tuesday that the United States is nowhere near ready for a serious influenza epidemic and more should be done to prepare.

Dausey, the chairman of the Public Health Department at Mercyhurst University in Erie, Pa., said that while the country is currently experiencing its worst influenza epidemic in a decade, the flu season could be much worse. He said that the grim situation portrayed in the movie "Contagion" is a possible outcome, the Buffalo News reports.

"It is clear that our existing infection-control efforts and vaccine campaigns are unable to significantly slow the spread of the influenza," Dausey said, according to the Buffalo News. "We shouldn't wait for the movie 'Contagion' to play out in real life before we decide to get serious about preparing to respond to novel infectious disease epidemics."

Dausey said that significant gains made after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks in the area of public health preparedness were rolled back when the recession occurred. Prior to funding cuts, Dausey and other researchers worked with local and state governments to develop pandemic influenza plans and piloted tests to evaluate local health departments' preparedness levels. The researchers created strategies to improve, manage and deploy vaccines and antivirals.

Since the recession, Dausey said that pandemic influenza preparedness was put on the back burner as a low priority. He said that more funding from both parties is necessary to be prepared for a catastrophic influenza season, the Buffalo News reports.

"Influenza has always represented a serious threat to public health," Dausey said, according to the Buffalo News. "We need to be ready to respond not only to a 'bad' influenza season but also to a catastrophic one. That requires bipartisan support for sustained investment in local, state and federal public health preparedness that is viewed as a priority even in tough economic times."