How prepared are we all to respond to a pandemic influenza event that occurs world wide? By now, most public health professionals recognize that pandemic influenzas occur every 10-40 years and that many relate to avian strains of influenza that mutate into a virus that can infect humans, sometime with devastating effects.
Risk modeling would be one of the best means of evaluating how well today's public health infrastructure could respond, but it is very difficult to determine to what levels preparedness levels are required based on the type of business you may be involved in, be it a health care organization, educational institution, state or local government or faith based organizations. One of the key ingredients into the mix, is the disease severity and our ability to create an effective vaccine that can be manufactured to levels required to immunize large population numbers. A strain of pandemic influenza with a relatively low mortality rate would certainly be cause for concern, but a strain with a moderate to high mortality rate could be a public health disaster. At what level of pandemic influenza readiness can your organization afford to plan for OR not afford to plan for?
Regardless of the severity of the next strain of pandemic influenza, there is a very specific timeline of concern that all individuals and organizations should prepare for and that is the period between the identification of the first cases of pandemic influenza and the development of an effective vaccine. Unlike the traditional all-hazards approach to disaster planning where localized emergencies can be addressed by sending mass response capabilities to a specific area, a pandemic disaster will be different. Why? Basically, because disease of this nature do not recognize traditional geographical borders, can be spread very rapidly and will tax every community to their fullest. So, why have communities, small to midlevel businesses and indeed many local and county health departments failed create plans and educate their members?
During the critical time period when pandemic influenza becomes widespread and prior to the creation of an effective vaccine, our citizens will be required to recognize how to protect themselves and their families, how to potentially care of sick family members and how prevent the spread of virus. Remember, hospitals and other health care facilities will likely be overwhelmed with patients and bringing people together into close proximity may exacerbate the problem.
What can we do now? Plan for the worse and hope for the best? When disaster preparedness exercises are conducted and the evaluation process occurs, two main issues frequently come to the forefront: education and communications. Whatever the public health disaster, education of people, timely and accurate communications is almost always one of the most effective means of defeating disease.