Comanche County_Health officials say this year's seasonal flu outbreak is more severe than normal, and it has them thinking about what to do if a new worldwide virus breaks out - one United States' residents have no natural resistance to or suitable vaccine to keep it from spreading. Is Comanche County ready if, and when, pandemic flu hits?
At a Comanche County Pandemic Influenza Workshop Tuesday, local county agencies and health officials discussed the report where the Federal Government and health care experts say a flu pandemic is likely to occur - and could result in the death of millions of people. They say we need to be ready.
Local officials say Comanche County isn't quite prepared for the probability of a pandemic, but it is off to a good start. The Health Department finished a detailed booklet to help officials respond to this very real health threat. But, they say it will take the entire community - working together - to make the "Comanche County Pandemic Influenza Plan" work effectively.
The Health Department says that during the average flu season, more than 36,000 people in the United States die after contracting the virus. But, in a pandemic flu emergency, those death rates rise exponentially. Oklahoma State Health Department Preparedness and Response Planner Cara Crooks says we need to be ready now. "We don't know when we're going to be faced with pandemic flu," she says.
Officials from the city, county's school districts and businesses attended the Pandemic Flu Workshop to learn what to do in the event of an outbreak. "This is a stepping stone," says Crooks. "This is the start of beginning to prepare as a community, working with our peers, the school systems, the businesses, the government - those different entities beginning to work together, and build a communication link or a network."
Although all levels of the community seem to have individual plans, other parts of the city or county are not part of the individual plans. Comanche County Public Information Officer Chris Kilmer says they need to work together at every level, starting with a Joint Information Center (JIC), to combine resources and communicate with the community. "It's one single voice and one place of information," says Kilmer. "That way, we don't have conflicting information and bad information getting out. That way the public gets the correct information on what to do."
For example, the entire community should know where to go to receive a vaccination, and what schools or businesses will be closed. The worse than normal flu season has given Comanche County a taste of what to expect when a pandemic event hits. "The likelihood of us having a pandemic flu event is very small," says Kilmer. "However, we want to be proactive, and plan, and reach out and develop our network between our agencies that will be involved, if this did happen."
Ironically, some officials weren't able to attend Tuesday's meeting because they were sick with the flu.