Friday, February 23, 2007

APHA Releases Blueprint for Improving U.S. Pandemic Flu Preparedness

Responding to the continued threat of pandemic flu and the needs of public health workers, the American Public Health Association released its blueprint for strengthening the nation’s pandemic preparedness this week.

APHA's Prescription for Pandemic Flu calls for resources for the public health work force as well as clear federal guidance on pandemic preparedness. The measures are necessary because the nation's already overburdened public health workers may lack the resources they need to effectively respond to a flu outbreak, according to APHA.

To build America's flu pandemic preparedness, the APHA blueprint calls for action such as:
* increased funding for states, localities, hospitals and public health labs so that they can expand their ability to respond to pandemic flu;
* increased investment in the public health work force, so there are enough people ready to serve on the front lines during a flu pandemic or the annual flu season;
* emergency Medicaid coverage to ensure that uninsured Americans will get the care they need during a flu pandemic;
* guidelines for the use of non-drug interventions, such as handwashing, isolation and quarantine;
* new methods to purchase, distribute and track vaccines and antivirals;
* an emphasis on occupational and mental health issues when creating pandemic planning and response efforts; and
* laws and policies that will allow health officers to make decisions about quarantine and isolation.

The new blueprint is the latest effort by APHA to help ready the nation for pandemic influenza. The Association's Get Ready campaign, which includes fact sheets, podcasts and other material, is helping the public prepare for a flu pandemic and outbreaks of other emerging infectious diseases.

What do you think? What else do we need to be ready to face a flu pandemic? Post your comments.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Help your workplace prepare for a flu pandemic

Businesses concerned about the possibility of a flu pandemic or other disaster have new resources available to help them plan and protect the health of employees.

The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration has introduced new workplace safety and health guidelines to help companies prepare for a pandemic.

A flu pandemic is likely to have a serious impact on workplaces. Reports say that a pandemic could affect as many as 40 percent of workers during periods when a flu pandemic is at its peak. Sick employees could stay home because of their illnesses, while others may stay home to care for children or sick family members. That's why it's important to start planning now.

The new OSHA guidelines divide workplaces and work guidelines into four risk zones -- very high, high, medium and lower risk -- according to the likelihood that employees may be exposed to pandemic flu on the job. Groups with a very high risk of exposure to flu include doctors, nurses, dentists and others who interact regularly with the public.

To get ready for pandemic flu or other disasters, OSHA encourages businesses to plan for operations with a reduced work force; identify exposure and health risks to employees; and come up with ways to distance employees from each other, customers and the general public.

"I want to impress upon all private and public employers the importance of protecting their most valuable asset... their employees," said Edwin G. Foulke Jr., OSHA's assistant secretary. "Proper planning and preparation now can save lives in the future."

If your workplace hasn't gotten started yet on emergency planning or its been awhile since you've reviewed your emergency plans, why not pass this information along to your supervisor? After all, it's in your own best interest.

Is your office or workplace ready for the worst? What else should employers be doing? What's missing from the new guidelines? Leave your feedback by clicking on the comments link below.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Reader Poll: How concerned are you?

How concerned are you about pandemic influenza? Let us know by participating in our poll on the right.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Survey: Public health workers not personally prepared for emergencies

When it comes to emergency preparedness, many public health workers may not be practicing what they preach, the American Public Health Association found out recently.

The association conducted an informal online survey of public health workers — such as those who work in local health departments or medical facilities. The results showed that even though such workers are busy helping to prepare their communities and residents for emergencies, they aren't doing enough to take care of themselves and their families.

About 60 percent of workers who took part in the survey said they lacked evacuation plans for their own households, and 52 percent said they didn't have a plan addressing how they'd communicate with household members if an emergency occurred.

The survey also found that about 64 percent of respondents were "somewhat," "very" or "extremely" concerned about an influenza pandemic. Respondents said they were also concerned about disasters such as hurricanes and earthquakes.

A news story detailing further survey results was published in The Nation's Health, APHA's monthly newspaper.

Please tell us how concerned you are about the possibility of a pandemic - see our poll on the right.

Shocked that more health workers aren't prepared themselves? You can use the comment feature of this blog to tell us, ask questions, raise concerns, etc.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Quarantine: Scary scenario, or practical approach?

Think of the word quarantine. Quick! What comes to mind? Do scenes from the movie Outbreak flash by, with Dustin Hoffman and Rene Russo donning spacesuit-gear and the military forcibly keeping people in their communities? You know, super scary stuff.

Will that really happen when pandemic flu strikes? Not likely. In fact, public health officials have a more realistic plan in mind.

Let's start with some definitions. "Quarantine" is when people who are not sick but have likely been exposed to a virus are separated from others. These people may be urged to not leave their homes or towns. A related term is "isolation." That's when a person who is already sick is separated from other people to reduce the chances that she or he will get others sick.

Health officials in Asia and Canada took these actions during the SARS outbreak a few years ago. But quarantine and isolation are likely to only play a small role in how communities respond to a flu pandemic. Why? Because pandemic flu spreads rapidly, and people can catch it from others who are sick but do not yet show any symptoms of being ill. (While common sense tells you to avoid the sneezing guy with the runny nose and bloodshot eyes, what about the woman who seems perfectly healthy?)

Rather than a situation like the one portrayed in an overblown Hollywood movie, scientists and experts expect restrictive measures to be voluntary. People will be encouraged to stay home from work or school to limit interacting with others and reduce their chances of getting sick. Schools will be closed and community events cancelled. Sick people will be separated from those who are not –- both in health facilities and at home.

What should you do to prepare for the possibility of staying home from work or school? APHA has developed a fact sheet that includes items that you should stockpile to be ready for a flu pandemic or anything else that comes your way—blizzard, hurricane or another disaster. And as far as seeing spacesuits in the near future, you’re more likely to see them on astronauts orbiting the planet than here on Earth.

What do you think? Would you be willing to stay home and quarantine yourself during a pandemic flu outbreak? Should quarantine be voluntary or mandatory? Tell us your thoughts by clicking on the comments link below.