Health Officials Making Plans in Case of Pandemic

Health Officials Making Plans in Case of Pandemic

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Ed Yeates ReportingPlans for attacking a pandemic, if one should hit Utah -- that's what the State Health Advisory Committee heard today from those who've been drafting emergency measures should they become necessary.

State and local health departments have had plans in place for years to deal with the large scale spread of infectious diseases. The plans are now simply being modified to become more intense, more far reaching, should we face an influenza pandemic.

If it happens, some things are a given, for now. We won't have a vaccine until at least six to eight months after the pandemic begins. Anti-viral medicines which could reduce the severity of illness most likely will be in short supply and they'll go to high risk people first.

So, in the interim, health departments will do what they can do, what they've done in the past. To reduce the rapid spread of illness, people may be asked to practice what is called "social distancing."

Robert Rolfs, M.D., State Epidemiologist: "We'll ask them not to go to work or school if they're sick. We'll ask employers not to ask people to come if they're sick."

Disease surveillance would pick up the first hints of illness in the state, and it's spread, hour by hour, day by day. Absenteeism rates would be tracked continually. Lab capacity would be increased, devoted almost entirely to test for the viral strain.

If the pandemic worsens - becomes really bad - expect mandatory controls. Mass gatherings and social events could be cancelled. You may have to wear a mask. There would be quarantines and places to house large numbers of sick people, but again, this is a worse case scenario.

Dr. Robert Rolfs and his colleagues who appeared before the health advisory committee say all state agencies are working together, finalizing plans, just in case. But until then…

Robert Rolfs, MD: “I don’t think the average citizen needs to worry or panic about it because there isn’t an immediate threat to them right now.”

A National Pandemic plan is expected to be released within the next two weeks. The State Plan will probably be out at about the same time.

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