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Community Groups Gather to Discuss Pandemic Flu

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Officials from a variety of community organizations gathered at Town Hall today to discuss the potential for a pandemic flu outbreak in Westport and Weston and how they would respond.

First Selectman Gordon Joseloff said he is planning an information session for the community on the topic based on information gathered by the different groups, which included emergency officials, pharmacists, businesses and school officials.

He said everyone needs to be careful of creating an “infodemic” because it can be just as dangerous.

“A panic can be caused by one or two cases,” he said. “We need to let everyone know we have plans and are planning more.”

A few years ago, he said, people were highly concerned when there were a few cases of West Nile Virus in Westport.

“West Nile can cause dead birds, and people could jump to conclusions if they see some dead birds,” he said.

David Rubin, a Westport-Weston Health District board member and an infectious disease specialist, briefed the group on the current status of avian flu, which he called a complex issue.

There is a worldwide pandemic of avian flu in birds, he said, and it had been mostly contained for the last 10 years. With migratory birds, though, it could reach the Western Hemisphere, he said.

Only 200 people who have come into close contact with the birds, he said, have been killed from the epidemic.

It has not been an issue with other people contracting the disease yet, he said, but the 1918 pandemic flu—which killed more people than World War I—appears to have been caused by a strain of avian flu.

The question is now if the avian flu now will transform into a human disease, Rubin said, and when that could happen.

Susan Jacozzi, Westport-Weston Health District director, said district officials have been working since the Sept. 11 attacks with local emergency officials on a bioterrorism plan, which was tested last week in a live drill.

The district’s plans to deal with pandemic flu currently are being modified based on state and federal plans on the same matter.

“We have flu clinics every year,” she said. “We know how to reach out to the high risk groups.”

The concern is it could be six to eight months after a pandemic flu breaks before local officials receive vaccine, Jacozzi said.

People will need to be educated and perform personal hygiene measures—like wearing surgical masks—to ensure the disease does not spread.

It will be hard, though, because people are more likely to respond for two weeks, she said, but for a more lengthy amount of time people are going to want to live their lives.

Nadine Schwab, schools nursing director, said the school nurses have been kept up to date on avian flu.

“They are one of the first people to recognize unusual illness,” she said.

Joseloff said the schools may be the first place a pandemic could be spotted when people call in sick or go to the nurses’ offices.

Schools Superintendent Elliott Landon said school officials have crafted and implemented emergency procedures, and now they are being modified to include a possible pandemic.

Communication systems with the staff and parents, he said, will be important, and there needs to be education for families in the schools.

One thought on “Community Groups Gather to Discuss Pandemic Flu

  1. The H5N1 bird flu virus is now spreading again in France and Germany. It is just a matter of time before infected birds migrate from Siberia to Alaska, Canada and the USA. For those who want more info on preparedness, a free Individual and Family Guide to Pandemic Bird Flu Preparedness can be downloaded at: http://www.pandemicinfosite.com
    There is also a Pandemic Preparedness guide for businesses available.

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