Following the bioterrorist events of the fall of 2001, there has been concern that the nation may not be prepared to respond to a major public health threat, such as the current outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). Whether a disease outbreak occurs naturally or is due to the intentional release of a harmful biological agent by a terrorist, much of the initial response would occur at the local level, particularly hospitals and their emergency departments. Efforts to plan for worldwide influenza pandemics are useful for understanding public health preparedness for other large-scale outbreaks. GAO was asked to examine (1) the preparedness of state and local public health agencies and organizations for responding to a large-scale infectious disease outbreak, (2) the preparedness of hospitals for responding to a large-scale infectious disease outbreak, and (3) federal and state efforts to prepare for an influenza pandemic. This testimony is based on GAO's report, Bioterrorism: Preparedness Varied across State and Local Jurisdictions, GAO-03-373 (Apr. 7, 2003), a survey of hospitals GAO conducted to assess their level of emergency preparedness, and information updating GAO's prior report on federal and state planning for an influenza pandemic, Influenza Pandemic: Plan Needed for Federal and State Response, GAO-01-4 (Oct. 27, 2000).
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