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Rhode Island making preparations for pandemic flu

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  • Rhode Island making preparations for pandemic flu

    Rhode Island making preparations for pandemic flu

    December 16, 2006

    PROVIDENCE, R.I. --Rhode Island is preparing for a potential pandemic flu outbreak by acquiring enough doses of medicine to treat hundreds of thousands of patients and identifying alternate care sites in the event hospitals become overwhelmed, health officials said.

    The state plans to supply enough anti-flu medicine for more than 250,000 people, or about a quarter of the population, said Dr. L. Anthony Cirillo, chief of the state health department's center for emergency preparedness and response. The supply should be sufficient for a moderate to severe pandemic, and many people who show less serious symptoms are not expected to seek hospital treatment, he said.

    "If we have a pandemic that is worse than that, that will be a truly challenging and significant event," Cirillo said.

    The state has divided itself into 10 separate regions, with a lead hospital designated for each zone. Health officials have asked the hospitals to identify up to three sites in their regions, such as schools, that could serve as a backup place to treat the sick.

    "If we have an infectious disease, we don't want everyone in one building if we can avoid that," Cirillo said.

    In addition, the state plans to contract with the Volunteer Center of Rhode Island to coordinate available volunteers and match resources with needs. The state is also stockpiling supplies such as surgical masks and gloves and has hosted emergency preparedness exercises.

    A recent report from the Trust for America's Health, a nonprofit health advocacy organization, gave Rhode Island six out of 10 possible points for its health disaster preparedness. Half the states scored six or less on the report, the group said.

    The state received credit for having enough scientists to test for anthrax or plague and for having year-round lab-based flu surveillance.

    And the number of adults over the age of 65 who have received a pneumonia vaccination is at or above the national median, according to the report.

    But the report noted other problems, saying the state had a shortage of nurses, insufficient high-tech lab space to meet bioterrorism preparedness needs and not enough hospital beds to deal with a moderate pandemic.