Thursday, June 28, 2007

'Jasperites' Prepare For Pandemic

Another interesting glimpse of how a community, this time in Jasper, Canada, is preparing on a local level for a H5N1 pandemic :
A bird flu pandemic would impact all Jasperites, say municipal officials who stress that everyone must work together to prepare for and respond to an outbreak.

Many experts predict that an influenza pandemic will occur in the next five to 10 years.

The Municipality of Jasper and Aspen Health have both initiated Pandemic Contingency Plans.

But according to Greg Van Tighem, Jasper’s fire chief and director of disaster services, businesses and organizations in town have a responsibility to develop individual plans to deal with an influenza pandemic.

An influenza pandemic would have a significant impact on staff all over town, many of whom fulfill important roles, such as providing groceries or fuel, Van Tighem said. He estimated that about 35 per cent of an operation’s workforce would be affected by a bird flu outbreak at any given time.

People are naturally afraid to go out in public when a pandemic hits, for fear of becoming ill, Van Tighem said.

“They may have family members that are sick, young children or old grandparents, and they may need to stay home to take care of them, so they don’t go to work,” he said. “So the key point with pandemic planning is to make people aware of the fact that they will be operating with less staff.”

In preparing a pandemic influenza plan, Van Tighem said business owners and heads of organizations should separate their services into three categories: essential, necessary and desired.

Van Tighem said businesses and organizations should plan to default to only providing essential services in the worst-case scenario. He added that employers should define the circumstances under which their plan to offer only essential services would be triggered.

In the event of an influenza pandemic, the municipality would open a Coordination Centre to communicate with the community, the health region, Parks Canada and other provincial and federal organizations. Immunizations would also be provided through the Coordination Centre.

Influenza vaccine is always in short supply in the initial stages of a pandemic, Van Tighem said.

In its contingency plan, the municipality has identified key people who will get the vaccine first, such as essential service providers. He added that sustaining services that keep the town functioning, such as public works and emergency services, would be one of the municipality’s top priorities during a pandemic

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