Feb. 3, 2006
County Agencies Begin to Prepare for Influenza Pandemic
Over the past few months we've heard frequent news reports about avian flu and its spread from Asia to Turkey and now Iraq. We've also heard a lot from the federal government about being prepared for an influenza pandemic. Although no one knows when it will happen or what form it will take, health experts are fairly certain that there will be a worldwide outbreak of avian flu or another type of influenza.
A pandemic is different from a seasonal flu epidemic in many ways. A pandemic is a widespread outbreak that occurs when a new virus emerges that people have not been exposed to. It can cause serious illness and widespread disruption of our daily lives because people aren't immune to the new virus. The most serious pandemic in recent history was the influenza outbreak that followed World War I. At least half a million people died in the U.S., and more than 40 million people died worldwide.
A severe pandemic can change the way people live for months, if not years. Hospitals, physicians and health centers would be overwhelmed with sick people and medical staff would have to prioritize who received care. Schools could be closed for several weeks. Some businesses would close because their employees were too sick to work. Transportation disruptions would cause delays in the ways that groceries, fuel supplies and other important products are delivered.
The effects of a pandemic can be less severe if we make preparations ahead of time.
State and county governments across the nation are developing plans to treat patients and respond to an influenza pandemic. Our county Health Department and Emergency Management Office have already devoted much time and effort to this process. In November, about 80 people from county government, hospitals, schools, and emergency response agencies gathered for a "tabletop" exercise about pandemic flu at the Joint News Center in Volney.
The exercise was really a fact-finding experience for all of us. County Medical Director Dr. Dennis Norfleet provided information about an influenza pandemic and how it might affect our community. It was an excellent opportunity to share information, anticipate what might occur, and brainstorm about how we would work together to solve problems and lessen the impact in our county.
The people that took part in the November exercise raised many issues. The need for community education and training is critical. All schools in the county will be involved in planning for an influenza pandemic, along with emergency responders, law enforcement, and several agencies of county government. Within the next few months the staff of the Emergency Management Office and Health Department will start a community training program. Another, more in-depth tabletop drill will be held later this spring.
We are already off to a good start. Representatives from Oswego County BOCES, Mexico, Altmar-Parish-Williamstown, Fulton, Sandy Creek, Hannibal and Central Square school districts, along with health staff at SUNY Oswego, took part in our first exercise.
Other agencies that participated include the county Health Department, Central Square Health Center, Lee Memorial Hospital, Oswego Health, Pulaski Medical Center, Oswego County Ambulance, Northern Oswego County Ambulance, Southern Oswego County Ambulance, Novelis Health Center, University Hospital, state Health Department, Onondaga County Health Department, Oswego County Child Care Council, and Integrated Community Planning.
Several law enforcement agencies are also involved. They include the Fulton, Oswego and Pulaski police departments, New York State Police, SUNY Oswego Police, and U.S. Border Patrol. Other agencies include Fulton and Oswego fire departments, county Fire Coordinator's Office, county E-911 Program, state Emergency Management Office, county Emergency Management Office, Local Human Needs Committee, county Attorney's Office, county Public Information Office, and several members of the county Legislature.
As this process evolves, others will be asked to help plan and coordinate resources. Local residents will undoubtedly be hearing more about this topic over the next several months. For those who would like to learn more, an excellent source of information is the federal government's Web site at www.pandemicflu.gov. The site includes a helpful guide for families and individuals about what could happen during a pandemic and contains common sense steps that we can take ahead of time.
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