From the CNN Newsroom: Flu Mask Supply [transcript]

PHILLIPS: One big health worry for everyone right now, you guessed it -- swine flu. The shots and nasal mist sprays should be at clinics and your doctors' offices this week, but poor nations will have to wait. The World Health Organization hopes to begin delivering some 60 million doses in November. The U.S., other rich nations and the vaccine makers are donating their extras to about 100 countries over the next few months. 

Meantime, we're all looking for ways to keep from spreading the swine flu. You know, other than sneezing in our elbows. Wearing a simple surgical mask could help, but few are made here anymore. 

So what happens if we run out? That's what Jeanne Meserve tackles for us. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): During the cataclysmic 1918 flu pandemic, Red Cross nurses hand-made surgical masks to help control the spread of disease. Now machines crank them out at the Prestige Ameritech plant in Richland Hills, Texas, one of the few manufacturers in the U.S. Ninety percent of production has moved to other countries where labor is cheaper, and some say that has created a vulnerability right here. 

MIKE BOWEN, PRESTIGE AMERITECH: If there's a pandemic, America won't be able to supply its own needs.

MESERVE: Bowen and others fear that in a 1918-size pandemic, the nations that make masks like China and Mexico would keep them for themselves. 

REP. JOE BARTON (R), TEXAS: Push comes to shove, you take care of your own before you take care of others. That's just human nature. And for that reason alone, I think we should buy more of these masks in the United States and we should encourage the capability to manufacturer more of these masks in the United States. 

MESERVE: The government estimates the U.S. could need three billion surgical masks during the H1N1 outbreak. Right now, the Strategic National Stockpile contains only a small fraction of that amount, 37 million. It's a yawning gap, government officials acknowledge, one that was laid out in stark detail in this Health and Human Services PowerPoint presentation two years ago. 

Government officials say before they build up supplies, they want more evidence the masks provide effective protection, but current guidance from the CDC recommends the use of surgical masks. And last year, OSHA estimated that a single health professional could go through close to 2,000 during a pandemic. 

Bowen has been crusading for more domestic production of surgical masks. He could benefit financially but says this isn't just about business, it's about the nation's health and security. 

BOWEN: Important things like face masks should be made in America. And I think they will finally realize what we've been trying to tell them for almost three years. 

MESERVE (on camera): Hospitals, clinics and physicians are creating their own stockpiles of surgical masks. A good thing, except manufacturers are already having trouble keeping up with demand. And if H1N1 becomes more deadly, that demand will likely grow much quicker. 

Jeanne Meserve, CNN, Washington. 

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