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  • CT: Greenwich outlines plan to combat avian flu

    Town outlines plan to combat avian flu

    By Michael Dinan
    Staff Writer

    March 30, 2006
    http://www.greenwichtime.com/news/lo...ocal-headlines

    No one knows whether the avian flu virus that's killed tens of millions of birds since it emerged a decade ago will cause a pandemic among humans.

    But if the virus ever develops the capacity for human-to-human transmission, health and emergency response officials will put into effect a comprehensive plan to contain and combat it in Greenwich, a panel of experts said last night.

    "Cooperation and collaboration are crucial to these plans," Tom Mahoney, director of the Greenwich Department of Health's office of special clinical services said during a two-hour event billed as "Avian Flu: A Community Response."

    More than 125 residents attended the free talk, presented by the health department and Greenwich Hospital. A panel of health and emergency response officials discussed in broad terms their plans for handling a flu pandemic and offered preparation tips for residents.

    "There's no indication that there is any human transmission, so that's really good news," said Terry Rabatsky-Ehr, lead epidemiologist with a state health department response team responsible for surveillance and planning in Connecticut.

    To date, Rabatsky-Ehr said, 186 people have contracted the virus in eight countries and 105 of them have died. Physicians are divided over the likelihood that it will become transmissible among humans. The virus is spreading quickly among birds, from Asia to Africa and Europe. It hasn't appeared in birds in the United States, though officials expect it to eventually.

    Caroline Calderone Baisley, the town's health director, and Stephanie Paulmeno, director of the health department's office of community health planning, painted a grim picture of what would be required in Greenwich in the event of a pandemic. The virus itself may circulate for two days before people start showing symptoms, and would spread quickly, she said. Officials seeking to survey the extent of the virus would issue advisories and alerts through outlets such as the media, churches and community centers even as practical considerations such as the disposal of dead bodies arose.

    The town's plan --a foot thick, according to Paulmeno, and developed following state and federal guidelines -- assumes that at least two waves of the flu would strike within six to eight weeks and infect up to half of all residents.

    "Vaccine and anti-viral shortages will exist, especially during the early stages of the pandemic," Calderone Baisley said.

    The federal government has allocated funds to produce an avian flu vaccine, Rabatsky-Ehr said, but it isn't clear whether that vaccine would offer full immunity.

    The best defense against contracting or transmitting an avian flu is the same as seasonal flu, the experts agreed: Wash your hands and stay home if you're sick.

    Paulmeno said residents also can prepare by ensuring that their homes are equipped with enough goods to allow them to stay in for several days or even weeks with limited interaction outside.

    "Preparedness is a shared responsibility," Calderone Baisley said. "An infection carried by one person can be transmitted to many and for this reason individual preparation is a must."

    Paulmeno called for residents to sign up as volunteers to assist in case of a pandemic.

    The talk was co-sponsored by Greenwich Library, the Greenwich Chapter of the American Red Cross and the Greenwich Chapter of the League of Women Voters.

  • #2
    Connecticut - East Hartford drill helps prepare

    DRILL HELPS PREPARE FOR FLU PANDEMIC
    July 14, 2006
    By Jim Farrell (jfarrell@courant.com), Courant Staff Writer

    East Hartford -- Kathy Ahl usually keeps busy in her work as an administrative assistant at Riverside Health and Rehabilitation Center, but she spent much of Thursday morning lying in a bed in Room 590.

    She was playing the role of an infected patient as part of a drill designed to test how the town might respond to a pandemic flu.

    The exercise "gives you an idea of what to improve on, of what you need to watch out for," Ahl said after being visited by an array of health officials.

    The three-day drill, which concludes today, was choreographed by Baker Salsbury, the town health director. He said a pandemic - which is a new and infectious disease that can be transmitted between humans and cause serious illness or death - can be devastatingly disruptive in part because developing a vaccine can take months.

    Ahl was one of eight people in town who on Thursday posed as a mock patient. Others were at homes and apartments - there even was a case affecting a guest at the Sheraton hotel.

    In each situation, an emergency response team was summoned to ensure that the infected person was isolated. Health officials also interviewed each patient to learn whom they had been in contact with recently - information that would be used to contain further transmission of the disease.

    "It's an extraordinary effort of cooperation," Salsbury said, noting that hundreds of people and dozens of public and private institutions and agencies are involved.

    To prevent panic or even confusion, sandwich boards at each site told people that a drill was underway.

    At Riverside, there was little commotion in the lobby as the officials, clad in protective gowns and masks, walked through the lobby toward an elevator.

    Ahl was sharing a room with Lisa Garro - an administrative trainee at Riverside - and their playful exchanges hinted at the tension that a real pandemic could prompt.

    After learning that her roommate had the deadly infection, Garro was told that she, too, could be at risk.

    That prompted Garro to glare at Ahl and say, "I never did like you."

    Todd Gaertner, an associate administrator at Riverside, said his institution regularly uses the isolation and quarantine tactics that would be needed on a much broader scale if a pandemic were to develop.

    He said the drill offered an opportunity to think about other challenges that would arise, such as security issues and the problem of ensuring that vendors could continue to deliver supplies.

    "This is a good opportunity for us," Gaertner said.

    He and Ahl both said that it would be impossible in a mock exercise to create the stress and chaos that a real pandemic could cause.

    "The streets would go berserk," Ahl said. "You'd have looting at grocery stores."

    All the more reason for planning, noted Gaertner.

    He cited the scare in Toronto three years ago when more than 30 people died from Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, or SARS.

    Experts said the damage could have been much worse.

    "They were able to control it - it never got into the U.S.," Gaertner said. "A program of isolation and quarantine, while never perfect, can really reduce the spread of a disease."

    www.courant.com

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