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Old 12-09-2004, 03:35 PM
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Default Tommy Thompson Warns Of Bioterror

AP


Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson said Thursday that America and its top allies must unite to fight bioterrorism threats, and urged greater cooperation in combating deadly flu strains that have hit Asia.

Thompson was in Paris for the first meeting of health ministers from the Group of Seven nations and Mexico focusing on the threat of biological attack. He warned any of them could be targeted.

"You have to assume that sometime in the future one of our countries ... is going to be hit by a bioterrorism attack," he told reporters.

"The better prepared we are, we will be able to minimize the injuries, death and suffering for citizens in the country that is hit," Thompson said. He did not specify what threats the countries might face.

Thompson, who was taking part in fifth annual meeting of G-7 health ministers, urged his counterparts from the other G-7 nations ? Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, and Japan ? to also work together on fighting "pandemic" flu and terror threats to the global food supply.

Thompson has announced plans to step down next month from the administration of President Bush, who has not named a possible successor.

The thrust of the two-day meeting that ends Friday was to share ideas and expertise, but U.S. officials traveling with Thompson said they were also hoping for agreement to help equip and train Asian countries in the fight against deadly flu strains that have hit their region.

French Health Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy called for the creation of an international task force to counter bioterrorism and recommended Ottawa as its headquarters. The Canadian capital is home to the G-7 secretariat for health.

An international task force would serve as a critical clearinghouse for the pooling and sharing of information and intelligence as well as research being carried out at top-security government labs, Douste-Blazy said.

"Bioterrorism can be a reality tomorrow morning. There must be an international response for alert and reaction, vaccines, and the means to treat sick or infected people," he said.

The officials visited Paris' Necker hospital, which has a special laboratory unit devoted to treating victims of biological agents. Among 37 nations he has visited as secretary, Thompson said France was among the best prepared for a biological attack.

France and the United States have stockpiled millions of doses of vaccine designed to treat people who might be exposed to viruses that conceivably could be released into the population, Douste-Blazy and Thompson said.

Each has enough extra vaccine to provide doses to other countries that may need it, they said.
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