OLYMPIA – More than 75 people gathered recently at Thurston County Public Health and Social Services to begin community wide preparations for the possibility of a pandemic flu outbreak. Thurston County Health Officer Dr. Diana Yu and Health Director Sherri McDonald helped to organize the half-day meeting. Yu says it's imperative that the entire community gets behind the effort. "Scientists all over the world are monitoring the current bird flu outbreak to gauge whether it might become a human to human flu strain. If it does, the preparations we make now will be extremely valuable as to our ability to handle the impacts from such a pandemic."
Currently, there is no pandemic (widespread, human to human influenza outbreak of a new virus) flu outbreak but many authorities say it is a matter of time until a bird (or other animal) flu mutates into a brand new strain that passes easily from human to human. There would be no vaccine against such an illness and may not be one for many, many months. In the meantime, the pandemic could spread worldwide, carrying with it the possibility of millions of deaths.
Thurston County Health Director Sherri McDonald says a third or more of the workforce could be absent in such a scenario, as ill persons stay home and well persons stay home to take care of the sick or to avoid getting sick. At some point during a pandemic, schools, workplaces, public events and the like may be shut down. "If we begin work now on what steps we need to take together to accommodate the impacts of such a widespread outbreak, then we can discover how best to react and what we need to do to take care of ourselves and each other. The good news is this kind of planning will also be valuable for many different kinds of emergencies and natural disasters, not just pandemic flu."
A large variety of community members attended the "Call to Action" meeting on June 9th. They were divided into several groups for planning including-
- Community Service Organizations.
- Clinics and medical care facilities.
- Public Information and Schools personnel.
- Hospital officials.
- Emergency pre-hospital personnel.
Those attending will continue planning for several months to come. McDonald says others in the community who would like to help can contact Debbie Trees at 360-786-5581 ext 1 7062# or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
County residents who want more information on pandemic flu preparations for themselves or their families, can visit the county's Health Department web site at http://www.co.thurston.wa.us/health/Influenza/Pandemic.html