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Flu pandemic would pose challenges for schools, agencies, health workers

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  • Flu pandemic would pose challenges for schools, agencies, health workers

    Flu pandemic would pose challenges for schools, agencies, health workers


    <!-- begin body-content -->If pandemic flu hits the Midlands, authorities might have to bring in refrigerated tractor-trailer trucks ? because local morgues won?t be able to accommodate all the corpses.
    That was one of the scenarios that surfaced last week as representatives of Lexington County government, community and public-safety agencies gathered to ponder pandemic possibilities.
    A major challenge in an influenza pandemic is that by definition, illness will be widespread.
    So unlike other disasters such as hurricanes, a pandemic could make it hard or impossible for agencies such as law enforcement and emergency medical services to get help from counterparts in other regions, said Patrice Goins, public-health preparedness director for Region 3 of the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control.
    ?You?re going to pretty much be on your own,? she told the group of about 50 that met Aug. 16 at Brookland Baptist Church.
    Similar meetings are being held around the state as part of a federally funded preparedness effort. Federal and state officials have warned that there could be catastrophic effects from an influenza strain such as the H5N1 bird flu that has killed at least 139 people, mostly in Asia. The fear is that a new strain of flu, from which no one would have immunity, could mutate to spread easily among humans.
    In the worst modern pandemic, in 1918, an estimated 675,000 Americans died.
    The Lexington group conducted a ?tabletop exercise,? discussing a hypothetical pandemic outbreak. At every stage, Goins challenged them with questions:
    ? Do schools have a plan to get information to worried parents?
    ? Have agencies thought about whether they could operate if 30 percent to 40 percent of their employees were home sick?
    ? If certain services must be discontinued, which ones would those be?
    ? Would there be enough people to transport patients to hospitals? To arrange numerous funerals? To help children and the elderly whose caregivers fell ill or died?
    ?We are already, like everyone else, short-staffed,? said Patty Labbe, training officer for Lexington County EMS.
    She and others said that while disaster drills and hurricane preparedness offer some training, a worst-case pandemic would be tough to prepare for and everyone would just have to do their best.
    Meetings like this one should help agencies improve their communication and preparedness, Goins said.
    Though many in attendance clearly were veterans of such meetings ? some referring casually to ?pan flu? ? others said the session was an eye-opener.
    Lynda Christison, director of aging programs for the Lexington County Recreation and Aging Commission, said she had a lot to think about, especially how a pandemic would affect the seniors her agency serves. That?s seven senior centers, 500 volunteers and 500 meals delivered each day.
    ?Most of our volunteers are over 70, and some might be hesitant or unable to help,? she said.
    She said one strategy ? though a more costly one ? might be to deliver frozen meals on a weekly basis rather than daily hot meals.
    It?s smart to do some pandemic preparedness in your own household, stockpiling food, water and other supplies, for example. For ideas, visit and
    Richland County agencies? pandemic flu meeting will be at 9:30 a.m. Aug. 29 at the S.C. Hospital Association, 1000 Center Point Road.
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