Pandemic Flu scenario arrives in Morrison County

(Pictured are thirty-nine community representatives who gathered at the Initiative Foundation in Little Falls March 21, to work through a tabletop pandemic flu exercise. Those attending, from the left,included Sharon Sanderson, Paul McIntyre, Tim Werner, Fred Tabatt, Dale Schmeck and Becky Dunaisky. Submitted photo)

The scenario presented to those attending the exercise was that in mid-October, 2002, an outbreak of an unusually severe respiratory illness was identified in a small village in South China. New cases began to be identified throughout the province. Viral cultures collected from several of the initial patients were positive for type A influenza virus. Isolates sent to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta determined this was a new strain of influenza never before isolated in humans.

During the next few months the new flu strain has arrived in the United States and is expected to be in Central Minnesota within a few weeks. How does the county prepare for it? This was the question those attending worked toward answering.

Hoese explained, “This exercise is the first of several to be held as a means to bring the community together to discuss how it will respond to a public health emergency and to determine the next steps to improve the community’s response to a public health emergency.”

She said, “An influenza pandemic was chosen as the first exercise topic because there is a strong belief in the public health community that the world may face this kind of public health disaster at some future time, based on the occurrence of three influenza pandemics during the twentieth century.”

Hoese explained how a pandemic outbreak impacts the whole world and occurs with little warning.

“In such an event, there will be no vaccine available for up to four to seven months after isolation of the novel virus, many more will become infected and many more will die,” Hoese said.

The Emergency Preparedness Advisory Council is an ongoing body that will plan exercises and drills to increase the capacity of those organizations responsible for responding to disasters and emergencies.

“Communication among the organizations, understanding each other’s roles and responsibilities and coordination of the response are critical to protecting the health and well-being of our citizens,” added Dianne Werkman, Emergency Management Coordinator from the Sheriff’s Department.

Comments from those who attended the exercise included “Very useful and effective. It was helpful to hear perspectives of different sectors,” “I will give a thought on how to engage the business community in this type of discussion and planning,” “Outstanding,” and “Interesting to see the interest the community has on these issues; very good.”

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