Pandemic What Are You Prepared

In the past few years, there's been quite a bit in the news about pandemic influenza. The question is do people really understand what the term means, and what, if anything, they should be doing to prepare? How big of an impact could pandemic influenza have on the United States?

In the past few years, there's been quite a bit in the news about pandemic influenza. The question is do people really understand what the term means, and what, if anything, they should be doing to prepare? How big of an impact could pandemic influenza have on the United States?

In an effort to prepare its employees, and the public, for a possible pandemic influenza outbreak, MeritCare has created a family preparedness guide for natural and man-made threats. The goal is to ensure that people are equipped to respond to a catastrophic event and for MeritCare's employees to be able to continue in their essential role of providing safe, quality health care. The planning guide was created using an "all-hazards" approach, meaning that it's a useful tool, no matter the situation, whether it is a flood or pandemic influenza.

Components of MeritCare's planning guide:
  • How to make a family plan for disasters and emergencies
  • How to make a disaster supply kit
  • How to plan for family members with special needs, children's issues and pet safety
  • How to shelter in place; how to evacuate
  • A disaster supply checklist (food, supplies, important documents, medical information, etc.)

What is a pandemic?:
In order for something to be called a pandemic, it must be a worldwide outbreak. In addition, three conditions have to be met:
  • A new influenza virus emerges for which there is little or no immunity in humans
  • It infects humans and begins to cause serious illness
  • It spreads easily from person-to-person worldwide

Pandemic influenza:
Occurs cyclically. There were three pandemic influenza outbreaks in the 20th century:
  • 1918 (Spanish flu) - There were at least 500,000 deaths in the United States and 40 million worldwide
  • 1957 (Asian flu) - There were at least 70,000 deaths in the United States and 2 million worldwide
  • 1968; (Hong Kong flu) - There were about 34,000 deaths in the United States and 700,000 worldwide

Vaccine will probably not be available in the early stages of a pandemic.
The planning assumptions are:
  • We know that pandemics usually include "waves" of activity that last six-eight weeks and are separated by months; at least two waves are likely.
  • Work/school absenteeism may be as high as 40 percent at the peak
  • 25 percent of people in the United States will become ill; 1,229,870 in Minnesota and 160,550 in North Dakota
  • Of these people, 4 percent will need to be hospitalized; 49,195 in Minnesota and 6,422 in North Dakota
  • 1.7 percent of those who become ill will die; this translates into 20,098 in Minnesota and 2,729 in North Dakota
  • It will cause a major impact on society e.g. widespread restrictions on travel, closings of schools and businesses, cancellation of large public gatherings
  • Potential for severe impact on domestic and world economy

(The planning assumption numbers are an estimate based on 25 percent of the population becoming ill; the actual severity is not predictable and could be better or worse. Also, the numbers are based on based on 2000 population estimates.)

To obtain a copy of MeritCare's planning guide:
  • Go to meritcare.com, keywords: family disaster plans
  • Call MeritCare at (701) 234-4893 or (800) 437-4010, ext. 4893

What people can do to prepare:
  • Get an annual flu shot. Vaccination for regular seasonal influenza will prevent seasonal flu and reduce the risk of secondary illnesses such as pneumonia.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water, or use a hand sanitizer
  • Cover your nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing, using your sleeve or a tissue.
  • Stay home if you are sick; keep your children home if they are sick
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick; keep your distance if you are sick

Valuable quotes:
  • "The pandemic clock is ticking, we just don't know what time it is." E. Marcuse
  • "Hope is not a plan." Julie Gerberding, M.D., director, CDC
  • "There is only one thing more difficult than planning for an emergency, and that would be having to explain why you didn't." Dr. Bonnie Henry, British Columbia Centre for Disease Control

Bird flu vs. pandemic influenza:
Avian flu (bird flu) is an influenza A virus of the H5N1 strain. This virus originates in wild aquatic birds. The virus does not cause illness in these birds nor does it go through any type of genetic change. But when the virus does spread from wild birds to domesticated birds such as chickens, it undergoes changes that allow it to infect humans, pigs and potentially other mammals. Once in the lung cells of a mammalian host, the virus can mix genes with human influenza viruses that are also present. This process can lead to an entirely new viral strain, which is then capable of sustained human-to-human transmissions. Cases of human infection have occurred since 1997 in 12 countries but there is no evidence of sustained human-to-human transmission. There have not been any cases of H5N1 avian influenza in the United States.