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October 12, 2005

Avian (flu) in the (spot) Light


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With more of a media spotlight on avian flu, Dr. Peter Sandman, an international risk communication expert, has written an excellent article entitled "The Flu Pandemic Preparedness Snowball", cautioning us against relying on medical solutions to a pandemic, should it occur. He reminds us that expensive antiviral medicine is not a viable option for much of the world, and of the meaning of "pan" in pandemic (when almost everyone, almost everywhere is affected)

You should read the whole article, in fact you should read his whole website, Risk = Hazard + Outrage, but, in consideration of your heavy schedules, I am, once again, blatantly copying large chunks of some of his salient points for your perusal. Sorry Dr. Sandman, I guess.

He advises:

1. Be nice to the newbies.[those who are just waking up to the pandemic possibiliy, drop the smug ]
2. Watch out for people’s adjustment reaction — and the authorities’ adjustment reaction.
3. Focus less on the pharmaceutical fix.
4. Focus more on worst case scenarios.
5. Focus more on non-medical preparedness.
6. Focus more on non-governmental and local preparedness.
7. Focus more on worldwide preparedness.
8. Get clear on the “pan” in “pandemic.”
9. Get clear on the “pre” — and the “maybe” — in pandemic preparedness.

And more:

. Manufacturers and service providers can rethink their inventory control procedures. What will they be able to provide for themselves if their usual supplier can no longer make it or ship it? What can they do without in a pinch? What do they need to stockpile.

. Every organization can rethink its staffing needs. How can we get essential tasks done despite soaring absenteeism? What sorts of cross-training now might save the day later?

. Every organization can rethink its social contact needs. Infectious disease transmission is a function of the number of social contacts — keeping people home more means keeping more of them alive. What jobs can shift to telecommuting? How can we educate children without making them come to school? How can we distribute food without making people come to the supermarket or the soup kitchen? Should we redefine “delivery person” as an essential job that qualifies for prophylactic antivirals?

. Nonprofits can start planning to coordinate volunteers. Like any emergency, a pandemic will yield huge numbers of people who want to do something to help — including many who contracted pandemic influenza and survived, and are therefore immune. Who is going to sort them out and get them where they’re needed most, doing high-risk jobs that don’t require special skills (washing linens at the hospital, for example, or making deliveries to people sick at home)?

. Local governments can ask themselves hard questions about leadership and survival. How will they keep essential services (police, fire, water and sewerage) operating? What inessential sources of infection (movie theaters and restaurants, for example) will they want to shut down? Where will they put the bodies when the morgues are full? How will they maintain order?

. What’s left for individuals to do? Inculcate hand hygiene habits now. Figure out how you’ll take care of a sick family member without getting everyone else sick. Stockpile what you’ll need so you don’t need to go out so much. Ask your doctor for a prescription for Tamiflu or Relenza ... and fill it fast, before the drugstores run out. (Admittedly, this is a zero-sum game by now.) Above all, push every organization you’re tied to — your church, your employer, your club, your children’s school — to start its own pandemic planning process.

The clickies in the last paragraph are mine, NOT Dr. Sandman's. Sorry again, just thought I'd slip them in.

Photo note: That heron is still hanging around -- this time in a little more light.

Posted by Dakota at October 12, 2005 09:47 AM