What is Pandemic Influenza?
An influenza pandemic is a worldwide outbreak or epidemic caused by a strain of influenza virus to which few if any humans have immunity developed by prior exposure. Influenza pandemics occur predictably but at unpredictable intervals; three occurred during the 20th century. The most serious pandemic on record, the “Spanish flu” of 1918-1919 caused an estimated 20-100 million deaths worldwide and over 500,000 deaths in the United States. Many pandemics are believed to occur when a strain of influenza circulating among birds (avian influenza), acquires the ability to cause serious illness and to spread effectively among people. Beginning in 1997 and continuing through 2006, a widespread outbreak of avian influenza (H5N1) has affected birds in multiple Asian countries. That strain has demonstrated the ability to cause lethal disease among humans and created concern that it might evolve into a strain of virus capable of causing a pandemic. It is not known whether that will occur, but it is certain that another influenza pandemic will afflict humans at some point in the future.
An influenza pandemic of the severity of the 1918 pandemic could cause over one million Utahans to become ill and result in over 500,000 outpatient doctor visits, 15,000 hospitalizations, and 4,000 deaths over the course of a year. Weber and Morgan Counties could experience 100,000 individual influenza cases, 50,000 outpatient doctor visits, 1500 additional hospitalizations and 400 deaths from a pandemic.
Pandemic Influenza Planning
If a major outbreak of avian flu, or bird flu, were to occur in the area, it could dramatically spike work and school absenteeism in Weber and Morgan Counties. The Weber-Morgan Health Department has been awarded a grant through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – Investigations and Technical Assistance Public Health Emergency Preparedness (CDC) via the Utah Department of Health to create a preparedness plan to address this specific event.
Under the plan, the health department has created a task force composed of law enforcement and firefighters, health practitioners, school administrators, business professionals and elected officials. The task force is divided into five subcommittees that meet once a month to discuss scenarios that could occur during a flu pandemic and how best to handle the situations. These five areas and those involved are:
- Education - Local school districts and Weber State University
- Legal/Law Enforcement – Local Police/Sheriff, judges, county attorneys, and emergency managers
- EMS/Health Care – Local hospitals, fire departments, and health department
- Business/Government – Local Chamber of Commerce, County Commission/Council, and WACOG
- Special Populations – Red Cross, Human Services, Interfaith Works, USU Extension, and DCFS
To advance the plan, the health department will provide residents with more information at locations throughout the community that will encourage individuals and families to create their own preparedness plans. “The key to surviving a pandemic is individual preparation,” says George Chino, Emergency Response Coordinator for the Weber-Morgan Health Department. “We want to involve entire communities in both counties.”
A pandemic is a worldwide outbreak of an influenza strain that previously has not circulated among humans, unlike a seasonal flu outbreak. Three flu pandemics have occurred in the last century. The worst was the Spanish flu outbreak of 1918, which killed more than 500,000 people in the United States, according to CDC. The worst-case scenario, should similar outbreak occur today, would affect 25% to 30% of the population in Weber and Morgan Counties.
The health department hopes to enroll key public health partners, including health department staff and hospital emergency response coordinators, infection control practitioners, epidemiologists, nursing directors, and administrators in UNIS, the Utah Notification and Information System.
Links to Local Preparation
State of Utah Planning - http://www.pandemicflu.gov/plan/states/utah.html
Weber State University - http://departments.weber.edu/healthcenter/
Weber School District
Ogden School District
Morgan School District
McKay Dee Hospital
Ogden Regional Medical Center
Weber County Sheriff’s Office - http://www.co.weber.ut.us/sheriff/emerman/index.html
Morgan County Sheriff’s Office - http://www.morgan-county.net/
Weber Human Services
Utah Department of Human Services
Midtown Community Center
Utah State University Extension
American Red Cross
Pandemic Influenza Links
Utah Department of Health - http://www.pandemicflu.utah.gov/
Health and Human Services - http://www.pandemicflu.gov/
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention - http://www.cdc.gov/flu/avian/
World Health Organization - http://www.who.int/csr/disease/avian_influenza/en/
Center for Infectious Disease Research & Policy - http://www.cidrap.umn.edu/
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