11/09/06 — Officials prepare Wayne in case of pandemic flu outbreak

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Officials prepare Wayne in case of pandemic flu outbreak

By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on November 9, 2006 1:45 PM

Goldsboro has already lived through one wave of pandemic flu.

Between 1918 and 1919, on many days, the streets sat vacant -- as if nobody lived inside the city limits at all. Every sneeze, cough and deep breath brought with it the fear of catching the deadly Spanish flu.

Dr. Doug Fullington warned City Council members Monday that a similar scene could play out any day now. And while there is no way to predict when the next pandemic influenza will strike, one fact is certain, he said -- if history is any indication of what is to come, it will happen.

"The historical answer is that approximately every 30 to 40 years, there is a major pandemic. It happened here in Goldsboro in 1919," he said. "People were afraid to go to the store. They didn't go to school. No one walked around on the streets or showed up to work."

The city's residents didn't want to be the next casualty, he said.

Still, in the end, more than 500,000 Americans and nearly 40 million worldwide died from a flu they weren't prepared to fight.

"For something like this, when you have a community with no immunity, the total could be much higher," Fullington said of pandemic flu. "And it wouldn't just be the old. It wouldn't just be the youn. Many people our age -- the leaders of the community -- would be at risk."

There is no way to eliminate that risk, he added. But along with a team of officials from across the county, Fullington said he is succeeding in making sure Wayne County is prepared for the worst.

"We are meeting monthly and the basic goal here is to prepare for pandemic influenza," he said. "The main thing we're doing right now is stockpiling necessary items -- basic health care supplies like IV fluid, morphine, masks."

It's better to prepare now than hope the federal and state governments will be quick to offer aid in the event that a pandemic strikes, Fullington added.

"They are going to be dealing with their own problems," he said. "I think we are well ahead of many other communities. I know I have spoken with some of (my) colleagues in other communities and they are like, 'what plan?'"'

North Carolina was one of the first states to adopt a pandemic influenza response plan. The state plans to use about $16 million over the next two years to stockpile supplies, including the antiviral drug Tamiflu.

For nearly a decade, health experts have had their eye on the H5N1 strain of bird flu, Fullington said. In 1997, the strain killed six people in Hong Kong.

Since that time, less than 300 human cases of the virus have been documented, he added. In those cases, the illness showed up in people who worked closely with infected birds.

"A pandemic would occur if humans started transmitting it among themselves," he said. "That can occur at anytime. It may never occur. There's no way to predict it. But historically, we are overdue ... In that case, many people get infected. When you have a population that doesn't have any immunity, and you have a virus that is capable of causing death, that is when your major problems can happen."

Fullington said officials across the county will continue to meet each month for the purpose of "planning for the worst." In the meantime, experts are encouraging community members to prepare, just in case.A link on the Wayne County Web site gives tips on precautions like stockpiling water, keeping personal prescription medication filled, canned food, batteries.

"What we would anticipate would be a pandemic occurring over 12 to 18 months," he said. "It would come in waves of approximately 6 to 8 weeks. Really, the big push would be in those first 6 to 8 weeks -- when the pandemic is first striking ... Hopefully it will never come. But let's be prepared if it does."