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U.S. Could Fall Short in Response to Pandemic Disease, Audit Finds

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The Department of Homeland Security cannot ensure it has enough medical gear or antiviral drugs to respond to a pandemic disease like Ebola, the agency’s inspector general warns in a new audit.

Despite $47 million appropriated by Congress in 2006 for planning, training and preparing for a potential pandemic, the audit said the department did not use “clear and documented methodologies” to determine how much protective equipment – including respirators, surgical masks, gloves, goggles, hand sanitizer and coverall suits – it would need to respond to such a public health crisis. Nor did its Office of Health Affairs develop a plan to replenish stockpiles, it said. For example, it found that 84 percent of the hand sanitizer it examined had passed the expiration date and that 81 percent of antiviral drugs acquired will expire by the end of 2015.

The report warned that an outbreak of a disease like influenza could “affect millions of Americans, cause significant illnesses and fatalities, and substantially disrupt our economic and social stability.” Inspector General John Roth said in a statement that department officials had agreed with 11 recommendations in the report. “We will work with them to see that this vital program is strengthened,” he said.

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-- Mike Brunker

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