February 26, 2007
No one knows exactly how or when a pandemic may effect us
(and the rest of the world). This makes it not only
difficult to plan for, but also difficult for many to rank
as a planning priority.
"Contingency planning for an event sometime in the future
is often difficult to justify, particularly in the face of
limited resources and more urgent problems and priorities.
However, there are two main reasons to invest in pandemic
1. Preparation will mitigate the direct medical and
economic effects of a pandemic, by ensuring that adequate
measures will be taken and implemented before the pandemic
2. Preparing for the next influenza pandemic will provide
benefits now, as improvements in infrastructure can have
immediate and lasting benefits, and can also mitigate the
effect of other epidemics or infectious disease threats.
A major component of pandemic preparedness is to strengthen
the capacity to respond to yearly epidemics of influenza."
These "yearly epidemics of influenza" affect millions of
people worldwide, and tens of thousands die in the United
"Each year, influenza develops in up to 20% of all
Americans, and >200,000 are hospitalized with the disease.
Although influenza is commonplace and generally
self-limited, an estimated 36,000 Americans die each year
from complications of the disease. Worldwide, severe
influenza infections develop in 35 million people
annually, and 250,000500,000 deaths occur."
Worldwide, hundreds of thousands of people die each year
from influenza, but this is not considered a pandemic.
"An influenza pandemic occurs when a new influenza virus
appears against which the human population has no immunity,
resulting in several, simultaneous epidemics worldwide with
enormous numbers of deaths and illness. With the increase
in global transport and communications, as well as
urbanization and overcrowded conditions, epidemics due the
new influenza virus are likely to quickly take hold around
the world. ... In the past, new strains have generated
pandemics causing high death rates and great social
disruption. In the 20th century, the greatest influenza
pandemic occurred in 1918 -1919 and caused an estimated
4050 million deaths world wide."
Throughout the country (and throughout the world), people
are working to reduce the possible side effects if and when
such a pandemic once again affects the world.
"Community strategies that delay or reduce the impact of a
pandemic (also called non-pharmaceutical interventions) may
help reduce the spread of disease until a vaccine is
available. CDC has issued guidelines on actions, designed
primarily to reduce contact between people, that community
government and health officials can take to try to limit
the spread of pandemic flu. Faith-based and community
organizations will play an integral role in the event of a
Prevention is key. Slowing the spread of any disease is
preferable to trying to treat it. In reality, a combination
of the two will likely be the most effective. While doctors
and researchers are working to find possible medical
methods of treatment and/ or prevention, non-medical
strategies will need to be implemented, as well.
"The collaboration of Faith-Based and Community
Organizations with public health agencies will be essential
in protecting the public's health and safety if and when an
influenza pandemic occurs. This checklist provides guidance
for religious organizations (churches, synagogues, mosques,
temples, etc.), social service agencies that are
faithbased, and community organizations in developing and
improving influenza pandemic response and preparedness
plans. Many of the points suggested here can improve your
organization's ability to protect your community during
emergencies in general. You can find more information at
Not everyone is part of a community or faith-based
organization, but almost everyone has contact with other
human beings on a daily basis.
"The most serious flu pandemic should prompt immediate
isolation measures, including sending students home from
school for up to three months and quarantining households
with sick family members, according to federal guidelines
issued Thursday [February 01, 2007]. Because it would take
four to six months to prepare a vaccine to protect against
a pandemic flu, the guidelines are critical to restricting
the virus in the interim. The best alternative to a vaccine
'is to try to slow down the spread and buy some time,' said
Dr. Julie Gerberding, the director of the Centers for
Disease Control and Prevention."
While staying home and staying away from others will help
slow the spread of the disease, this will not be possible
for all people. Doctors, nurses, emergency response
personnel, and others will need to leave their homes to
help fight the spread of the disease in other ways.
"The Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health
Administration (OSHA) today [February 6, 2007] unveiled new
workplace safety and health guidance that will help
employers prepare for an influenza pandemic.... 'Employers
and employees should use this guidance to help identify
risk levels and implement appropriate control measures to
prevent illness in the workplace.' ... Recommendations for
employee protection are presented for each of the four
levels of anticipated risk and include engineering
controls, work practices and use of personal protective
equipment such as respirators and surgical masks and their
relative value in protecting employees. The Labor
Department/HHS guidance also encourages employers to
prepare a plan to deal with a depleted workforce during a
pandemic. ... It is important to note that workplace safety
and health guidance may evolve and change over time as new
information becomes available. For instance, the
characteristics of the specific strain of influenza virus
ultimately responsible for the pandemic may affect the way
in which the disease is spread and therefore additional
guidance would be tailored to that information."
U. S. Department of Labor
Part of the difficulty when preparing for a possible
influenza pandemic, is not knowing what to expect, what
will work, and what can be done to help protect those who
are out fighting the disease.
"More than 2,000 students at the University of Michigan are
helping to figure out whether wearing surgical masks and
using hand sanitizer actually helps to prevent the spread
of the flu. The university started handing out the hygienic
tools this week to students in residence as part of an
experiment to test if the low-tech measures offer
protection from the influenza virus. The experiment comes
as health experts watch for any signs that the H5N1 form of
avian flu is mutating into a form that can spread easily
between people, a change that could spark a pandemic. ...
Students living in different dormitories will be assigned
to use masks only, both masks and sanitizer, or neither.
Use of hand sanitizer and masks will begin when a confirmed
case of flu is found in a campus dorm, the researchers
said. Study participants will be expected to wear the masks
at all times in the dorm but it's optional elsewhere. ...
They will also receive stickers and magnets that list flu
symptoms and include a pager number for students to report
suspected cases of the flu. A nurse will then go to the
dorm to collect samples."
Community and faith-based organizations are being asked to
prepare a plan and will be asked to help prevent the spread
of the disease when that time comes. Department of Labor's
Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is
asking businesses to prepare a plan and be ready to help
when the time comes. Schools are notorious for having many
people in a confined environment that often facilitates the
spread of disease.
"Thursday, February 8, 2007 ... Bishop Blanchet High School
in North Seattle announced that it won't reopen until
Monday [February 12] because more than 300 of the Catholic
school's 1,080 students have called in sick this week,
mostly with flu symptoms. ... Principal Kent Hickey said he
decided to close the school when the absentees went from
170 Monday to more than 300 Wednesday. 'We decided if we
could keep the students away from each other for four days,
maybe most would be healthy again,' he said. ... Instead,
the school will hold online classes, or a 'virtual school,'
as Hickey called it. Part of the reason for setting up such
an online system was in preparation for an epidemic or
other disaster in which students would need to stay home."
This school took the opportunity to test a plan that was
already in place. Not all schools have a plan.
Questions of the Week:
What personal planning have you and/ or your family done in
order to prepare for a possible pandemic? What preparations
should you make? What policies do your school, business,
faith-based organization, and/ or other community
organizations have established that will be put into
practice in the event of a possible pandemic? What should
you know about these policies and how they will affect you
and/ or your family? What can/ should you do if there are
currently no policies?
Please email me with any ideas or suggestions. Due to increasing amounts of SPAM sent to this account, please include "QOW" in the subject line when sending me email.
I look forward to reading
what you have to say.
Health Community Coordinator
Access Excellence @ the National Health Museum