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Pandemic flu: ‘Plan for the worst, hope for the best’

Forty thousand persons died in the United States from the Hong Kong Flu, which broke out in 1968 and 1969.
Those numbers might have been higher if some people hadn’t built up an immunity from the Asian Flu, which struck in 1957 and 1958. That flu claimed 60,000 lives in the United States, and, globally, a million people died.
‘You plan for the worst and hope for the best’ when making preparations for a pandemic influenza, said Tony Combs, public health coordinator for Harrison County, who hosted a public informational meeting Thursday to talk about a potential outbreak.
‘We’re here to give you as much relevant information as possible,’ he said.
Also speaking at the program was Steven Allen, a field epidemiologist for the Indiana State Dept. of Health.
Allen said his agency is concerned about the possibility of a pandemic outbreak, which can occur at any time of year.
He explained that influenza is caused by a virus rather than a bacteria, which makes it harder to treat. Lung congestion, coughing and potentially pneumonia are results of influenza. Antibiotics won’t help, Allen said, and patients are usually treated for their symptoms.
The term ‘pandemic’ indicates a ‘world wide epidemic’ of a new virus, or disease, that can cause serious, life-threatening illness, and is easily spread from human to human, Allen said.
‘With the seasonal flu, we usually are protected (with immunity) somewhat from the previous year’s strain,’ he said.
Allen and Combs both emphasized that there’s no way to know when a pandemic will strike, but once it does, it will spread rapidly.
Many persons will be ill and many will die, Allen said. And the medical system, as well as social and economic systems, will be overburdened.
Based on a worse-case scenario, of the 36,300-plus people in Harrison County, 5,456 to 12,732 may become ill.
‘We don’t really know the severity of it until it hits,’ Allen said.
The first ‘ and worst ‘ pandemic of the 20th century was recorded in 1918-1919. The ‘Spanish Flu’ was responsible for 40 million deaths worldwide; that’s nearly five times the number of deaths that occurred during World War I.
Allen said the Spanish Flu came in two waves, with persons between the ages of 20 and 40 having the highest mortality rate.
‘We didn’t have air travel back then,’ he said. ‘Imagine how quickly it would spread today.’
The incubation period for influenza is one to four days, with the infectious period being one to two days before a person shows symptoms through one week after onset of the disease.
Those symptoms include fever, cough, sore throat and muscle aches.
The virus is easily spread, and not just from coughing, Allen said.
It can survive on plastic and stainless steel for 24 hours, on cloth and tissue for 15 minutes, and on a hand for five minutes.
Allen said a cleaning solvent containing at least 10-percent bleach will kill the virus, and he recommends people remember to wash their hands, stay healthy, stop smoking and practice ‘respiratory etiquette’: cover mouth/nose when sneezing or coughing; discard used tissues, then wash hands; cough into your elbow if you don’t have a tissue; don’t use handkerchiefs; and stay at home if ill.
‘Cooking practices alone will kill the virus,’ Allen said.
Quarantines could be issued when there’s a pandemic outbreak, but Allen said that will only work in small situations. ‘A widespread pandemic will likely occur everywhere almost simultaneously,’ he said.
Both men said aid from local, state and federal agencies will be limited, and persons should make plans for themselves and their families. (See suggestions from the Centers for Disease Control below.)
Allen also said companies should consider a sick-day policy for a pandemic outbreak, which could reduce an employer’s work force by one third.
Vaccine manufacturers are preparing the best they can, but they face the challenge of not knowing the exact strain of a virus that doesn’t exist yet, Allen said.
‘With such a brand new virus, it takes longer for trials to make sure (the vaccine) doesn’t harm the body,’ he said.
Currently, it takes six to eight months to develop a new vaccine. Allen said manufacturers are hoping to reduce that time to about four months.
‘Staying home and practicing good hygiene will be the only options in the early stages … to help stop the spread of this,’ Combs said.
He added that we should have a couple of days notice that the pandemic has started before it reaches Harrison County.
‘We know there will be a pandemic,’ Combs said. ‘We just don’t know when.’
But when an outbreak does occur, people will be encouraged to stay at home, and large gatherings of people, such as church services and schools, will be temporarily canceled for as long as necessary, possibly up to eight weeks. (Individuals might be affected for two weeks.)
Combs said health officials have been planning for an outbreak for at least a year now, while dealing with current problems, such as biological and chemical threats and the aftermath of natural disasters.
‘There will be effects on our lifestyle,’ he said. ‘We know all this because it’s happened in the past.’
Allen said ‘accurate’ information about pandemic influenza can be found online at several sites, including:;;; and
‘To-do’ list helps prepare for flu
The Centers for Disease Control encourages everyone to prepare now for an influenza pandemic, by knowing both the magnitude of what can happen during a pandemic outbreak and what actions can be taken to help lessen the impact. Much of what the CDC recommends can be useful in other types of emergencies, such as power outages and disasters.
Below is a checklist to help gather the information and resources that may be needed in case of a flu pandemic.
To plan for a pandemic:
* Store a two-week supply of water and food. During a pandemic, if you cannot get to a store, or if stores are out of supplies, it will be important for you to have extra supplies on hand.
* Ask your doctor and insurance company if you can get an extra supply of your regular prescription drugs.
* Have nonprescription drugs and other health supplies on hand, including pain relievers, stomach remedies, cough and cold medicines, fluids with electrolytes, and vitamins.
* Talk with family members and other loved ones about how they would be cared for if they got sick, or what will be needed to care for them in your home.
* Volunteer to help local groups prepare and assist with emergency response.
* Get involved in your community as it works to prepare for an influenza pandemic.
To limit the spread of germs and prevent infection:
‘ Teach children to wash their hands frequently with soap and water, and set the example for this desired behavior.
‘ Teach children to cover coughs and sneezes with tissues. Be sure to do the same.
‘ Teach children to stay away from others as much as possible if they are sick. Persons who are sick should stay home from work and school.
There are a number of items that households should have on hand for an extended stay at home. The CDC gave the following examples:
Food and non-perishables ‘ ready-to-eat canned meats, fish, fruits, vegetables, beans and soup; protein or fruit bars; dry cereal or granola; peanut butter or nuts; dried fruit; crackers; canned juices; bottled water; canned or jarred baby food and formula; pet food.
Medical, health and emergency supplies ‘ prescribed medical supplies such as glucose and blood-pressure monitoring equipment; soap and water, or alcohol-based (60- to 95-percent) hand wash; medicines for fever, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen; thermometer; anti-diarrheal medication; vitamins; fluids with electrolytes; cleansing agent/soap; flashlight; batteries; portable radio; manual can opener; garbage bags; tissues, toilet paper, disposable diapers.
Additional information about the influenza pandemic can be found online at