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Preparing for Possible Flu Pandemic

Protecting Against Pandemic Flu

The Loudoun County Health Department is busy preparing for a possible flu pandemic.

The Loudoun County Health Department Director Dr. David Goodfriend said the county is overdue for a flu pandemic.

“We’ve had at least three pandemics in the last century. The first in 1918 and the most recent was in 1968,” he said. “We’ve been expecting one for the last five to 10 years.”

Goodfriend said this is something residents should take seriously.

“People hear influenza and think common cold, but its not,” he said.

IN PREPARATION for the next flu pandemic, the Loudoun County Health Department created a task force, the Loudoun County Pandemic Flu Task Force, consisting of 25 members representing county and town governments, Loudoun Public Schools, Inova Loudoun Hospital and the Loudoun County Chamber of Commerce.

Loudoun County Health Department epidemiologist and task force spokesperson Benita Boyer said the task force is currently organizing monthly meetings, headed by county administrator Kirby Bowers.

“We will discuss how to prepare this community for a possible flu pandemic,” Boyer said. “Communication is everything.”

The health council includes other local stakeholders because it affects everyone in the community.

“A pandemic flu would affect everyone, hospitals, business and schools. Everyone,” she said.

Loudoun County Public Schools spokesperson Wayde Byard said the Loudoun County Health Department sets the protocol for how schools should respond if a pandemic flu occurs.

“We take their lead,” he said.

The task force’s goal is to teach the community how to prepare for a flu pandemic.

Goodfriend said the most likely candidate for the possible pandemic is avian influenza.

“We’re more likely to see something like this than small pox,” he said.

Avian influenza, also known as the bird flu, is a disease spread by viruses that naturally occur in birds.

The Loudoun County Chapter of the American Red Cross spokesperson Traci Winfree said Avian Influenza is different from past pandemic flu’s because it tends to affect younger people.

“We’re used to an influenza attacking the very young and the very old,” Winfree said. “This one doesn’t have the same boundaries. It gets everybody.”

Loudoun residents need to prepare for the possible Avian Influenza differently than the common flu, as well.

“Preparation has changed with this pandemic,” Winfree said. “Instead preparing for just three to five days, everyone should have disaster supplies for 10 days.”

Disaster supplies includes food and water, tissues, thermometers and disposable gloves.

“Disposable gloves are important in case you have touch bodily fluids,” Winfree said. “It is important not to spread germs.”

Winfree also advised residents to check with doctors and insurance companies to stock up on extra prescription drugs. It is also important to stock up on non-prescription drugs, such as cough and cold medicine and stomach remedies and drinks with electrolytes in them, like Gatorade and Pedialyte.

“If you wait until the last minute, supplies might run short,” she said.

In addition to stocking up on goods, Winfree suggested making families make a plan, designating one person as the caregiver and deciding where children will go if their parents get sick.

If a pandemic flu hits, residents can protect themselves by washing their hands frequently and using hand sanitizer in between washes, Winfree said.

“Avoid crowded areas during a flu pandemic,” she said. “If you catch it, stay home from work or school.”

There haven’t been any cases of avian influenza in the United States to date, Boyer said. However, it is always important to be prepared, especially in a case of a mass biological attack.

WITH THE FLU season behind us, Goodfriend said it is important to prepare for a possible flu pandemic now.

“We don’t want to confuse the two,” he said. “We don’t know if a flu pandemic is coming. Should that occur, if more people are prepared, the better they will do. This is the time to start.”

Winfree added it is important for residents to stay calm.

“We don’t want residents to panic. We want them to prepare,” Winfree said.

The task force plans to hold community meetings through out the summer, informing citizens on how to protect themselves and prepare for a possible flu pandemic.

The Loudoun County Health Department created an online survey for residents to fill out, to determine the best times and places to hold community meetings. The Web site also includes a video created by the Virginia Department of Health and up-to-date information on the possible influenza pandemic.