Diane Barker is chairwoman of the Pandemic Planning Subcommittee of the Blaine County Local Emergency Planning Committee.
The Blaine County Local Emergency Planning Committee (LEPC) has formed a subcommittee to address local education of Blaine County citizens on the issues they would face in the event of a worldwide pandemic.
A pandemic occurs when a new influenza virus emerges and starts spreading as easily as normal influenza — by coughing and sneezing. Because the virus is new, the human immune system will have no pre-existing immunity. This makes it likely that people who contract pandemic influenza will experience a more serious illness than that caused by normal influenza.
An influenza pandemic is a rare but recurrent event. Three pandemics occurred in the previous century: "Spanish influenza" in 1918 killed an estimated 40--50 million people worldwide. "Asian influenza" in 1957 caused an estimated 2 million deaths. The "Hong Kong influenza" in 1968 killed an estimated 1 million people. The 1918 pandemic is considered one of the deadliest disease events in human history. The origin of the 1918 influenza was avian. Scientists today are concerned that a current avian flu virus, circulating in the bird populations of many countries, could mutate and start spreading easily from human to human.
The Blaine County Pandemic Planning Subcommittee takes guidance from the World Health Organization, which believes we could expect the following in the event of a pandemic:
· Given the high level of global traffic, the pandemic virus may spread rapidly, leaving little or no time to prepare.
· Vaccines, antiviral agents and antibiotics to treat secondary infections will be in short supply and will be unequally distributed. It will take months before any vaccine becomes available.
· Medical facilities will be overwhelmed.
· Widespread illness may result in sudden and potentially significant shortages of personnel to provide essential community services. This could include a disruption in food distribution, water and sewer services, electric power, natural gas, emergency medical services, road maintenance and telephone.
The LEPC believes families should be prepared for all disasters, not just a pandemic. By preparing ahead for all disasters you increase your chances of survival.
Our recommendation to the citizens of Blaine County is to educate yourself on what to do in the event of a pandemic. Pandemics are different from other disasters since so many communities will be affected. Little if any help will come from the outside. You have to help yourself, and the only way to do that is to prepare in advance. The first step towards preparation is education. I think people need to start this process now.
The committee recommends that citizens visit the following Web sites: www.pandemicflu.gov and www.who.int. If you have a neighbor who does not have access to a computer, please print out and share pertinent information with them. Businesses, libraries and government agencies could print out the handbook offered on the government Web site and make it available to employees and customers.
Educating yourself and helping to educate your community is the best thing you can do to ensure that your friends and family survive a pandemic or any disaster. Talk about it, share ideas, share information. And don't be complacent because spring is around the corner. The Spanish Flu started in the summer.