The anthrax incidents in the fall of 2001 and the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) outbreak in 2002-2003 have raised concerns about the nation's ability to respond to a major public health threat, whether naturally occurring or the result of bioterrorism. The anthrax incidents strained the public health system, including laboratory and workforce capacities, at the state and local levels. The SARS outbreak highlighted the challenges of responding to new and emerging infectious disease. The current influenza season has heightened concerns about the nation's ability to handle a pandemic. GAO was asked to examine improvements in state and local preparedness for responding to major public health threats and federal and state efforts to prepare for an influenza pandemic. This testimony is based on GAO's recent report, HHS Bioterrorism Preparedness Programs: States Reported Progress but Fell Short of Program Goals for 2002, GAO-04- 360R (Feb. 10, 2004). This testimony also updates information contained in GAO's 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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