Sunday, April 26, 2009

It's a Public Health Emergency

Enclosed are important informational links if you are concerned and wish to take appropriate but measured action. If you've just heard about this outbreak, a good place to start is this Q & A document from the WHO, posted by one of our readers. Then, if you're serious about being prepared, consider printing these useful Planning Checklists from the US government portal as follows:

Individuals & Families : K-12 Schools & Districts : Preschool & Child Care : Business & Work

SUMMARY OF DEVELOPMENTS: In White House briefing at 12:30pm EST 4-26, a "public health emergency" was declared by the Department of Homeland Security. The following alerts and advisories have been issued from the CDC, the WHO and Dept of Health and Human Services. A link to the CDC's confirmed US case tracker is also available. A San Antonio, Texas school district with 14 schools is closed this entire week because 2 students tested positive for the Swine Type A/H1N1 influenza. You can review the Superintendent's letter and related public health news release concerning the district's temporary closure.

Updated data on cases confirmed and suspected will be posted in the left sidebar. I recognize doing this will eventually become moot, as we may approach a point where tracking cases by state and country will get cumbersome. The best thing to do is be informed, prepared and prudent. The Texas district appears to be the first US school system closure in this outbreak. My bigger concern is what happens when several cases are reported in just one Maryland school. Do issues of public pressure, fear of infection or liability force the closure of that entire school system, or just the individual school? Image the impact on families and our local economy were one of the larger districts to close at this time of the year. How does this play into upcoming MD state-wide testing? Would MSDE quietly grant waivers to those systems allowing them ample cover before announcing a county-wide closure? Things that make you go hmmm, as one of my colleagues would say.

FOR TEACHERS: I have a feeling district officials across the Mid-Atlantic will prepare a statement of some kind to help answer questions students, staff and parents may have. The challenge of this however is how quickly information on the outbreak is changing. For the week ahead, I see this as a great opportunity for parents and educators alike to model the right kinds of personal hygiene and prudent action. Instead of getting kids all fired up about end of the world...get them talking seriously about appropriate hand-washing, adequate rest (9 hours for a teenager believe it or not). Don't let them draw you into a gotcha game of "are you still coming to class?" or "are we all going to die?" My answer: "Hey, if I'm here, teaching you, answering your questions, I have already done the preparations that are needed."

UPDATE: SAT 25 APRIL - 10:00 PM. The focus of this website is temporarily reassigned to tracking the Swine Flu outbreak. I originally introduced my plan to track pandemic influenza in February 2006, so this is not a new development for me, but it no doubt a bit shocking for some of you. You can link the image above in your favorites, posted in this Google Map format by an influenza research named Dr. Henry Niman, whose website Recombinomics I have quietly followed since starting to track Avian Influenza in Fall 2005. Another site called TB2K provides insight from like-minded observers who post aspects of a story not widely reported in mainstream news. Please note I'm not a contributor to any of these sites.

As reader BioPat has outlined in the comments, this is extremely serious development. We have a novel (never-before-seen) virus which according to the World Health Organization and CDC contains genetic material from pigs, humans and birds. As of today, the WHO is starting to beat pandemic drums in a way I had to never hear. Eye-popping events akin to a Hollywood disaster movie have already happened. You've heard about the closure of most public gatherings in Mexico City and the shutdown of a high school in San Antonio for all of this coming week. But did you know an archaeologist welcomed President Obama to Mexico's Anthropology museum on April 16. That same man died of flu-like symptoms the next day.

If you or someone that you know is at risk of death by denial, let me put this in perspective: It took 3 years for H5N1 (bird flu) to cause 79 fatalities (source: WHO cumulative report) This virus, Swine Influenza Type A/H1N1 caused 62 fatalies people in ONE WEEK. This is not appearing in some far-flung part of the world, it is in your backyard, my fellow Americans. With an incubation period of 2-5 days, the virus is probably already in 25 states by now, but the symptoms are just appearing. Since yesterday, cases have been reported in Queens, New York and Kansas. Though no deaths in the U.S. have occurred, spring flu is absolutely no fun, and all the U.S. cases are under age 40.

The 1918 Pandemic began in the spring when a less complicated version of the H1N1 virus jumped from pigs to soldiers at Fort Riley, Kansas. Public health measures were obviously less strigent then, and Armistice Day celebrations across the country that fall sealed the fate of untold thousands. Over an 18-month period, over 500,000 US citizens died.. with at least 195,000 of those in the month of October 1918 alone. The pandemic came in roughly three waves, starting with a mild onset that spring and summer. A second, more deadly wave in the fall was exacerbated by public gatherings due to commemorations marking end of "The Great War." In Baltimore, schools were closed for over a month from October to November as officials tried to quarantine the public as best as could be expected.

The best any person or government could do still resulted in 20 million deaths worldwide from 1918-1920. Our government is already doing it's best, but those efforts may be confounded by warm weather spawning large public gatherings. Your survival in this outbreak may come down to a slight modification of Allstate's slogan: "Are you in clean hands?" As time permits, I will post details on what appropriate precautions you can take for yourself and your family. Call me an alarmist.. but in order for the deniers to win this one, they have to be right every single day until this passes. I only have to be right once, and it's the one time I hope I'm wrong.

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