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Alabama: Health officials urge preparedness

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  • Alabama: Health officials urge preparedness


    Health officials urge preparedness

    By Michelle Rupe Eubanks
    Staff Writer

    Last Updated:April 09. 2008 10:39PM
    Published: April 10. 2008 3:30AM

    While influenza diagnoses are tapering off for the season, state health and emergency management officials say there's a reason to stay prepared not just for the next year but also for the threat of a pandemic flu outbreak.

    As part of preparedness, the Alabama Department of Public Health advocates keeping some key items on hand in the event of an emergency, whether it's a medical emergency or a power outage caused by a thunderstorm.

    Among the list are likely suspects: bottled water and nonperishable food. But there are also things that you may not have considered, including a month's supply of prescription medication and your family's birth certificates.

    "These are things that, if you look back on Hurricanes Ivan or Katrina, or even the ice storm from 1994, could work for any emergency," said Dr. Karen Landers, area health officer. "The key is to have the items in one place so you can get to them easily."

    Because Landers and others at the health department recognize a flu pandemic is an eventuality, they have been preparing ways local health-care providers can help residents cope, from closing schools to limiting the amount of time people spend in community gatherings.

    Research released Wednesday by the Centre for Outbreak Analysis and Modelling at Imperial College London revealed that simply closing schools would reduce the number of people who become ill with the avian flu by as much as 40 percent.

    Global flu pandemics have devastated populations across the globe three times in the 20th century, the first of which happened in 1918 and killed around 675,000 in the United States. More recent pandemics took place in 1957 and 1968.

    Landers said those events serve as historical precedent as ways to handle large-scale outbreaks.

    "In 1918, they didn't have all the technology we have today," she said. "They relied on word of mouth, newspapers and other means of communication to stop the spread of disease, and it worked. One Midwestern city reported a decrease in diagnoses and morbidity because they closed schools and stopped large worship events."

    Even with medical technology of the 21st century, this year's flu season was a bit rough. Landers said no deaths were reported as a result of the flu, but the makers of the vaccine were a little off because most flu cases came from a strain of the virus not included in the vaccine.

    "It's the nature of medicine," she said. "That's why it's so important to be aware of the epidemic."

    One other component is being prepared without panicking, George Grabryan, Lauderdale County Emergency Management Agency director, said the best thing to do is gather the supplies you may need with a plan in mind.

    "Once you've got your food and prescriptions, have a relative or friend out of town that everyone knows to get in touch with," he said, adding that presenting this issue in a nonthreatening way will keep kids from becoming anxious about it.

    "When you go to the grocery store, mention that you're picking up a few extra items for the plan, and it won't seem like such a big deal," Grabryan said. "This should be no different than the anxiety kids might have on the first day of school."

    Michelle Rupe Eubanks can be reached at 740-5745 or

    Need to know

    The Alabama Department of Public Health recommends you have these items on hand in case of an emergency:
    # Water: Have one gallon per person each day, including pets. Use it for drinking, hygiene and cleaning as needed.
    # Food: A nonperishable food supply for two weeks of food per person, including pets. Have electrolyte drinks, ready-to-eat canned meat, fruit and vegetables, canned or boxed juices, powdered milk and soup, crackers, granola and trail mix.
    # Can opener: Make sure it's a manual can opener in case of a power outage.
    # Medications: Collect one month's worth of any prescription medications you are taking.
    # First Aid: Include the basics, such as antiseptic, gloves, a variety of bandage sizes, thermometer and protective masks.
    # Flashlight: Keep a bright flashlight in case of a power outage.
    # Radio: A battery-powered radio for listening to news and weather.
    # Clothes: Collect extra clothing, socks and shoes for each person. Evaluate size and replace every six months.
    # Personal care items: Include soap, toilet paper, toothbrush, hand sanitizer, cleaning supplies, bleach and garbage bags.
    # Important documents: Collect copies of drivers' licenses, photo IDs, Social Security cards, birth certificates, deeds, titles, mortgage papers, insurance policies, bank account numbers and credit cards.
    Source: Alabama Department of Public Health