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CIOs Ponder Potential Pandemic

IT managers could face a major challenge finding the staff to keep their systems up and running in the wake of an avian flu outbreak, according to Professor Irwin Redlener, director of the National Center For Disaster Preparedness.

Speaking at an event in New York today, Redlener warned IT managers of the risks they face and slammed the U.S. government for its lack of avian flu preparedness. "Disaster planning itself is a disaster. If the federal government worked for your business you would fire them," he said. "There's tremendous confusion around state, local, and federal agencies."

Avian flu, which is also known as H5N1, has claimed over 100 victims, mainly in Asia. At the moment, it is difficult for one person to pass the virus to another, although there are fears that H5N1 could mutate, causing a global pandemic reminiscent of the 1918 influenza epidemic, which killed 20 million people around the world.

Redlener, who is based at the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University in New York, warned that the U.S. healthcare system, in particular, will struggle to cope with a major outbreak of the deadly virus. With 46 million Americans without access to health insurance, he added, this will leave many thousands of "Typhoid Mary-types" wandering the streets.

In New York City alone, according to Redlener, some 250,000 people could be hospitalized out of a population of around 7 million, and the virus could cause over 60,000 deaths.

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