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Be prepared: Getting ready for a flu pandemic

Published April 4, 2007 7:24 pm
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2007, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

The question of a killer influenza pandemic is not "if" it will occur but "when."

The Governor's Pandemic Influenza Preparedness Task Force has issued its report on local readiness for a global epidemic, and parts of it read like a science-fiction horror novel: quarantine, school closures, local emergency powers, disruption of essential services.

But the study group warns that the scenarios it portrays are very real - and will inevitably happen someday - and they want Utah to be prepared. It was farsighted of Gov. Jon Huntsman to appoint the task force and ask for recommendations. The group presented a long list of them; now it's up to the agencies involved to make plans, put rules in place and take action.

As Huntsman rightly pointed out, however, preparedness is not only a government function. All Utahns should become educated about what must occur during a pandemic and what they can do, such as planning to be self-sustaining during an outbreak.

Utah Department of Health Executive Director David Sundwall doesn't want to cause panic, but he does want all Utahns to realize the threat and the importance of following orders during a pandemic. You might be asked to avoid traveling and gathering in large groups, such as at school or church. You should understand the importance of priority groups, such as health-care workers and children, getting the first available vaccine.

The task force correctly urges the multiple agencies that would provide medical care, communications and essential community services such as food, water, power, transportation and medical supplies, to have emergency plans ready. The panel has created a useful timeline for the various important tasks - forming a permanent committee, defining duties and creating action plans for agencies including state and local health departments and hospital and physican groups.

Although no one can predict when the next pandemic will occur, an avian flu virus that has afflicted birds and other animals in Asia, Europe and Africa has focused greater attention on this inevitability. This strain has caused a severe type of disease in humans, but it cannot yet spread readily from person to person.

The task force has done a commendable job of laying the foundation. Now it's up to the rest of us to implement it.

It was farsighted of Gov. Jon Huntsman to appoint the Pandemic Influenza Preparedness Task Force and ask for recommendations.




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