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How prepared is the U.S. for a flu outbreak?

MSNBC analyst Dr. Bernadette  Healy warns that the American health care system is not ready
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With the avian bird flu now confirmed in at least 10 countries, and responsible for the deaths of as many as 66 people, many are beginning to ask the question of whether the U.S. will be prepared for the disease once it hits American soil.

On Tuesday's 'Scarborough Country,' guest host Catherine Crier talked with Dr. Bernadine Healy, MSNBC analyst and former director of the National Institutes of Health about U.S. preparedness.

To read an excerpt of their conversation, continue to the text below. To watch the video, click on the "Launch" button to the right.

CATHERINE CRIER: Doctor, I am going to be real candid.  I have someone very close to me who is in the government working on this pandemic.  I will tell you right off, it's my belief that we are not ready and we won't be ready if this is anywhere near the immediate future. 

DR. BERNADINE HEALY, MSNBC ANALYST:  I think you are quite right, Catherine. And I think one of the important things is, the public has to understand that.  They have to be prepared for the fact that we are not ready.  We are talking a lot about preparing.  We are talking about vaccines, but the reality is, there is no human vaccine.  We don't have antivirals, and people aren't focusing on what it will be like to be sick in a time of pandemic.  Will our health system be able to help them? 

CRIER:  And I think you know the answer to that, because if we are talking about more than about 100,000 people, and we are talking about sickness, if not death, exceeding that by a multitude, our medical community would be entirely overwhelmed almost immediately. 

HEALY:  Well, that's right, Catherine.

We have built a health care system that is certainly the finest in the world, but it has no surge capacity.  We don't like reserves.  States will not allow hospitals to "mothball" excess beds.  We are supposed to have 95 percent occupancy.  As a result, we don't have the reserves that we need, not just in beds, but particularly in intensive care unit beds. 

Catherine, if you are sick with this flu, if you look at the people who have been affected in Asia, the 120 or so people who have been sick, the 66 who have died, what you see is a very, very serious condition in which young people are affected.  People need respirators.  People go into coma.  They go into shock.  They are intensive care unit patients who need monitoring, who need specialists. 

We don't have the surge to handle it.  And that means, when this hits this country, where we have highest expectations that people will recover from whatever illness, we are going to see things that we have never seen before.  In fact, a colleague of mine at the American Hospital Association said, Americans are going to see what it's like to be practicing 1950s medicine.

CRIER:  Well, 1950s at best case.  Real quickly, three big things you would insist the government do now if they were listening to you?
HEALY:  Well, we certainly have to release our pandemic plan.  The final pandemic plan has not been released.  It's been released in other countries.  We haven't seen it yet.  We have to build up the stocks of the Tamiflu, and we have to do it quickly.  We are way behind other developed countries.

And we absolutely have to pay attention to our hospitals, taking care of people who are sick.  Do we have the intensive care unit beds, the respirators?  Do we have blood reserves?  Do we have a safe blood supply in that time?  And, very important, do we have the doctors and the nurses and the health care people who will be protected and ready to serve?  Are they going to be able to be there, away from their families?  Are they going to be equipped and knowledgeable on how to take care of patients who are very different from other flu victims?