Preparing for Pandemic Influenza
By Jorge C. Magaņa, M.D., F.A.A.P., Director, El Paso City-County Health and Environmental District.
A pandemic is a world-wide disease outbreak. A flu pandemic occurs when a new influenza virus emerges for which people have little or no immunity and for which there is no vaccine. The disease spreads easily from person to person and can cause serious illness and even death. It can sweep across the country and around the world in very short time. It is difficult to predict when the next influenza pandemic will occur or how severe it will be. Wherever or whenever a pandemic starts, everyone around the world is at risk.
Public health professionals are especially concerned about the avian H5N1 virus. Until now, the H5N1 virus is only spread from birds/poultry to humans. If the virus mutates to a form that can be spread from human to human, there is a potential for a human pandemic. The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that there have been 149 confirmed human cases with 80 human deaths in the countries of Viet Nam, Thailand, Turkey, Cambodia, Indonesia and China. There have been no cases reported in the United States.
A severe influenza pandemic could lead to high levels of illness, death, social disruption, and economic loss. Everyday life in communities such as El Paso would be disrupted because so many people in so many places become seriously ill at the same time.
The effects of a pandemic can be lessened if preparations are made ahead of time. The El Paso City-County Health and Environmental District is working with many other agencies and organizations on an El Paso Pandemic Influenza Preparedness Plan. You can prepare for an influenza pandemic now. You should know what actions you can take to help lessen the impact of an influenza pandemic on you and your family. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has developed a Pandemic Flu Planning Checklist for Individuals and Families to help you gather the information and resources you will need in case of a flu pandemic. It includes things such as storing a supply of food and water and having an extra supply of prescription medications. There is an emphasis on basic personal hygiene including washing your hands frequently, covering coughs and sneezes with tissues and staying home from work or school if sick.
For more information, visit www.pandemicflu.gov