Pandemic coming, flu expert warns
Dworkin, a national expert on influenza, addressed a group of nearly 100 county health officials yesterday at Cranwell Resort.
During his one-hour lecture "Pandemic Preparedness: Beyond the Hype," the founding editor of two leading Internet resources on pandemic flu told the gathering of Berkshire County Board of Health Association members, doctors, nurses and volunteers that it's never too early to plan.
When asked why Americans should worry about the spread of a rare form of flu for which there is no vaccination, Dworkin answered, "Because we didn't get one in 2005 or 2006."
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a pandemic, or epidemic spread over a wide area such as a nation or world, occurs once every 50 to 60 years.
The 20th century saw three such flu outbreaks, with the most serious, the Spanish flu, plaguing the United States in 1918-19, killing about 750,000 people.
Strains of the influenza virus can be targeted by vaccinations, but others evolve and have no current treatment. In colder temperatures, the virus can survive for a longer period of time outside the host human or bird, in the case of the currently threatening bird flu making humans especially susceptible in winter months.
"Pandemics are like hurricanes," said Dworkin. "We all know one is coming, but we don't know if it will be like Katrina or like a tropical storm. As we saw a few years ago, the time to prepare for hurricanes is not when the wind starts to blow."
Members of the Berkshire County Board of Health Association, local hospitals and Medical Reserve Corps have been working hard to help officials and residents formulate a plan for a possible flu pandemic this season.
At a forum to be hosted by the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition Friday, "Emergency Preparedness: Preparing for a Flu Pandemic," health officials hope to begin formulating an emergency action plan.
"We want people to know what is going on and how to get involved," said Amy Carey of the county's Medical Reserve Corps, who will speak at the forum. "We thought it would be helpful to take a broad approach, because a pandemic affects all sectors of the community."
Carey, along with representatives from the Community Pandemic Planning Team, hopes to help families, businesses and communities create emergency plans for storing food, sanitation and prevention.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention currently recommends simple steps for families, like carrying two weeks of emergency food and water, which they say will also prove helpful in the event of an ice storm.
'Can't just pass it off'
Vivian Orlowski, emergency planner for the county Board of Health, said it is important for individuals in the community to be on the same page when it comes to a response to a flu crisis. She hopes to address questions like: If schools were to close, what happens to parents at work? What about the dissemination of emergency information? And what can be done to control the problem early?
"While this is a medical and public health issue, it's not something the average citizen can say, 'The medical people can deal with this.' Because of how this will reverberate throughout the community in schools, businesses and homes, people can't just pass it off. Everybody needs to think about it."
To reach Amy Carr: firstname.lastname@example.org, (413) 664-4995.
|If you go ...|
What: 'Emergency Preparedness: Preparing for a Flu Pandemic.'
When: 10 a.m. to noon Friday.
Where: First Baptist Church, North Adams.
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