Sept. 18, 2006
Wright County prepares for pandemic flu
By Roz Kohls
Jon Young of the Wright County public health department told Rotarians Sept. 7 not only about the county’s plans to prevent and protect residents in case of a flu pandemic, but also what they can do personally to protect themselves from the virus.
A pandemic flu virus will be different from a regular seasonal flu virus, Young explained at the Rotary meeting in Daniel’s Family Restaurant in Cokato. It will be new, a type no one has ever experienced before, and it will cause a flu to spread worldwide, said Young of Dassel.
If a pandemic occurs, like the Spanish Flu in 1918, 32,000 people in Wright County will become ill, and 3,210 or 10 percent of those, will die, said Young, who has worked for Wright County for the past 12 years.
Young advised the Rotary Club members to get flu and pneumonia shots, no matter their age group. If someone becomes ill with the flu despite having a flu shot, doctors will know right away it is a new virus. It is extremely important to squelch the first outbreak, Young said.
Basic sanitary practices, such as covering your cough, and washing your hands, will prevent the spread of viruses, he said.
Young also advised residents to prepare pandemic supplies. Supplies should include bottled water and food, not because they will be unavailable, but because people panic in a disaster, and might cause a temporary shortage, he said.
Other supplies needed are sleeping bags or blankets, first aid kit, battery-operated lights and radio, extra batteries, medicine, and infant supplies. Families will also need plans for communication and “social distancing,” Young added.
“Social distancing,” means that people won’t meet in large groups during a pandemic to prevent the virus from spreading faster. Children might have to be home-schooled, or people will work from home instead of going to an office with other people, for example.
Young told how officials from the IDS building in Minneapolis are spending $1 million on a plan to prevent their workforce from being disrupted because of a flu pandemic.
Wright County has been very busy making plans also. The county will be responsible for quarantining an ill traveler from China who comes to Wright County, for example, he said.
The county also is making sure there are enough gowns and masks for health workers, what to do when hospitals are overwhelmed, a plan to take care of the large number of deceased, and drug distribution.
There probably won’t be a vaccine ready because the virus will be new. However, Tamiflu, an antiviral medication, if taken within the first 48 hours has shown promise. Pharmaceutical companies are planning to have 40 million doses ready, he said.
Young also recommended getting the pneumonia shot. Many of the people who die from flu, die from the pneumonia that comes with it, not the virus itself, he said.
During the Spanish Flu pandemic, when 25 percent of the world’s population, became ill, more young people and children died than other age groups. Young people’s immune systems are stronger and tend to overreact to the infection, causing pneumonia and organ failure, he said.
The virus world health officials are most concerned about now is bird flu. Chickens, ducks and geese, mostly in southeast Asia, carry this virus. Nearly 60 percent of people who have close contact with birds and contracted the virus, have died from it, Young said.
Also, 77 percent of southeast Asians have a poultry flock. Young showed Rotarians photos of some southeast Asians even sleeping with their chickens.
Migratory birds have carried the virus north to Russia. Health officials fear migratory birds will bring the virus to Alaska. Then migratory birds from the lower 48 states will carry it back to Minnesota and the rest of the country. Health officials are relieved from the results of a test two weeks ago on birds in Alaska that showed no bird flu virus at all there, he said.
There also is no human-to-human transmission yet.
The Spanish flu went around the world in nine months. Because of global jet travel, a pandemic now will move much faster, Young said.
“It takes a network,” Young said about planning for a pandemic. Churches, businesses, educators, health care workers and government must all work together, he said.
The world is not ready for a pandemic yet. But it is “more today than yesterday, more tomorrow than today,” he said.
“We’re making progress.”