TRANSCRIPT: Preparedness for Pandemic Influenza.

This is Josh Walsh of the Independence Health Department.

With the rising threat of the avian influenza virus called H5N1, the possibility of a pandemic flu is very real.  Remember, pandemic flu occurs when a new influenza virus emerges for which people have little or no immunity and which would cause serious illness or death throughout the world.

Scientists and public health experts across the globe and right here in the Kansas City area are working diligently to find ways to prepare to respond in the event of a pandemic flu.  Many people agree that the public response to a pandemic will be a three-pronged approach that involves traditional medical treatments, basic disease prevention, and personal preparedness.  Let’s learn a little more about each one of these pandemic response fronts.

First, vaccines and antiviral medications may be available to use as traditional medical treatment.  Much like the seasonal flu shot, a vaccine would be administered before exposure to a pandemic flu strain to prevent or minimize the virus’s impact in the future.  On the other hand, antiviral medication would be administered to a person after exposure to a pandemic flu strain.

Unfortunately, there are several issues related to the use of vaccines and antivirals.  For instance, vaccines only provide resistance for specific strains of the flu.  Because we do not know which particular flu strain may result in a pandemic, production of a suitable flu vaccine is difficult.  Moreover, the production capacity of vaccine manufacturers is limited.  Even if a particular strain was known today, pharmaceutical manufacturers would need months to create enough vaccine for everyone to receive one.

Similarly, there are several issues related to the use of antivirals in response to a pandemic flu.  First, while they may prove effective for some strains of the flu, antivirals are not a guaranteed 100-percent-effective treatment. For instance, antivirals must be taken aggressively immediately after the first signs and symptoms of the pandemic flu infection.  Unfortunately, many Americans try to deal with sickness on there own and often avoid a visit to the doctor for a period of time long enough to make an antiviral ineffective.  Like vaccines, antivirals are also in short supply.  Although the Federal government is stockpiling antiviral medications like Tamiflu and Relenza, currently only 20 million doses are available – far fewer than would be needed during a pandemic.

Now that we’ve learned about antivirals and vaccines, let’s move to disease prevention and personal preparedness.

The second front of the pandemic response front is basic disease prevention.  People unknowingly spread diseases like seasonal flu or common colds through poor cough and sneeze etiquette.  Fortunately, there are very easy ways for each and every one of us to reduce the spread of disease and as well as decrease the impacts of a pandemic flu strain.  For instance, instead of coughing or sneezing into your hand, cough into your elbow or sleeve.  This eliminates the possibility of transferring germs to your hands and decreases the spreading of germs to people by doorknobs, handshakes and other shared surfaces.

Another hygiene habit is to wash your hands regularly and always after you use the bathroom and before you eat.  Simply use soap with warm water while rubbing your hands together briskly for 30 seconds.  This will greatly reduce the spread of diseases like a pandemic flu strain.

We can also practice good health habits such as eating a balanced diet, exercising daily, and getting sufficient rest.  Get a seasonal flu shot as well. It will reduce your risk of coming down with seasonal flu or passing it on to others and although it is unlikely, the shot’s long-term effects might help your immune system fight off a pandemic strain.  And always remember, if you are sick or feeling ill try to stay away from family members, friends, and coworkers to minimize the spread of disease.

Now that we’ve learned more about disease prevention, let’s move on to a very important topic for individuals, families, and local businesses…personal preparedness.

Personal preparedness represents the actions that you as an individual or family can take to have the necessary food, water, and medications to sustain life during an emergency like a pandemic flu.  For most emergencies you need approximately three days worth of supplies; however, the length of the pandemic flu presents a unique situation.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that people prepare for up to 14 days of food and water to be personally prepared for a pandemic.

You also need to consider the individual needs you or your family have as you ready yourself for a lengthy emergency like pandemic flu.  For instance, do you have food for your pets?  Enough medicine if you are taking maintenance drugs?  A communication plan with other affected friends or families?  There are many questions that need answering; however, most are unique to your particular situation and can only be answered by you.

Businesses also play a role in personal preparedness.  By adopting administrative and resource policies that promote disease prevention and personal preparedness, businesses can help both employees and clients by maintaining a greater level of continuity during a pandemic flu outbreak.  For example, businesses could consider allowing employees to work from home, establish staggered operational shifts, and/or provide their employees with greater levels of personal protective equipment. 

A pandemic flu can cause widespread illness, death and cause major changes to everyday life. Planning and preparing now can go a long way to reduce the severity of the impacts later. Please, help yourself, your family and your business to become pandemic prepared.

If you are interested in learning more about pandemic flu information and preparation, please visit one of the following websites or call your local public health department.

Pandemic Flu, www.pandemicflu.gov
KC One, www.preparemetrokc.org
Mid-America Regional Council, www.marc.org
Kansas Department of Health and Environment, www.kdheks.gov
Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, www.dhss.mo.gov/Ready_in_3