On the Safe Side: Pandemic – What’s a Pandemic?

Recent events surrounding infectious diseases such as Ebola (EVD) and Enterovirus D68 prompted us to run this article from the 2007 NEWEA Annual Conference. Mr. Barry Beder, LICSW from Health Resources, Inc., gave an immensely educational, and sobering, presentation entitled Family Planning and Preparation for an Avian Flu Pandemic. While the summary below cannot do justice to Mr. Beder’s presentation, the message is clear: We cannot take these events lightly. Protect yourself and your family through Education, Planning and Practice of good germ prevention habits, everyday.

What is it?

  • A pandemic is an outbreak of the flu or other disease across the entire globe; contrary to the more common epidemic, which is an outbreak in a confined geographic location.
  • Flu pandemics are typically cyclical, historically occurring once every 10 to 50 years. Most recent flu pandemics occurred in 1918, 1957, and 1968.
  • Avian Influenza A (H5N1) or “bird flu” is a bird infection common in, and carried great distances by wild, migratory waterfowl, especially ducks. It kills almost 100% of infected domestic birds.
  • Bird flu is spread from bird-to-bird via contact with droppings, but humans can contract it through extensive contact with birds.

Why Is There Concern?

  • A pandemic develops in three stages:
    • 1) a new virus emerges from an animal, to which no human immunity exists, and develops the ability to infect humans;
    • 2) the virus develops the ability to reproduce in humans and causes significant disease;
    • 3) the virus spreads efficiently from human to human. Bird Flu has already achieved the first two stages.
  • The current fatality rate is 50%! Common flu is typically fatal in only those with weak immune systems; due to its mode of infection, bird flu will attack those with stronger immune systems.
  • If a pandemic occurs, outbreaks will likely occur simultaneously throughout the US placing an overwhelming demand on the healthcare delivery system. Bird flu requires treatment in an intensive care unit by ventilator. The current number of ICU beds in the US = 100,000; the projected need for ICU beds = 500,000 to 8,500,000.
  • Up to 35% absenteeism in all sectors/levels (public service/safety, healthcare personnel).
  • Order and security disrupted for several months, not just hours or days.
  • Media coverage on most news outlets 24/7 – obsessive TV watching and increased fear/stress.
  • No “outside” help, as typical with natural disasters (e.g., tsunami/hurricane/earthquake).

What Should We Do?

  • Educate yourself by following the CDC website on Pandemic Flu at http://www.pandemicflu.gov/ .
  • Begin pandemic planning for both your workplace and your home now. Even if H5N1 does not achieve pandemic stage, history indicates that we’re due for a flu pandemic. OSHA has recently published a guideline for businesses that can be downloaded for free at http://www.osha.gov/Publications/OSHA3327pandemic.pdf
  • Learn, teach, and practice good germ-prevention habits now.

On the Safe Side is provided by the NEWEA Safety Committee to help increase safety awareness in everyday activities. Thank you to Barry Beder and committee member Patty Passariello from Weston & Sampson for this article.


No comments yet.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.