Topeka Kansas officials on Monday released plans to deal with a possible worldwide flu outbreak, but said much of the responsibility would be up to individuals.
Officials emphasized the best way to protect against influenza was to get a flu shot, exercise, eat right, and practice good hygiene, such as frequent hand-washing and covering coughs.
"The plan will involve all Kansans by calling upon them to take basic actions to protect their health," said Dr. Howard Rodenberg, director of the health division of Kansas Department of Health and Environment.
Health officials are on high alert this year because an outbreak of avian flu, also known as bird flu, has swept across Asia, killing millions of birds and about 60 people of the 116 known to have been infected.
Last week, President Bush said he was concerned about the possibility of a flu outbreak similar to 1918 when 50 million people died worldwide.
Officials said they had no way of knowing whether this current strain of bird flu would become more easily transmitted to humans, but they said precautions were necessary.
A pandemic, a fast-moving worldwide infection, is certain, but the big question is whether it will hit this year or sometime in the future, said Gail Hansen, state epidemiologist.
Sounding the alarm, health officials are preparing on paper for a pandemic that could cripple the nation, killing up to 200,000. In Kansas, such an outbreak would require the hospitalization of up to 10,700 people, and could lead to the deaths of up to 2,500 people.
The 48-page pandemic plan requires that during such an emergency, hospitals would have to adjust their operations to make room for thousands of acutely ill and infectious people.
The plan also provides for monitoring the spread of illnesses, the delivery and distribution of vaccine, and enforced quarantine and isolation of ill people to prevent the spread of the virus.
Rodenberg said that forced quarantine and isolation would be used only in extraordinary cases because the effectiveness of such measures were still being debated.
"We believe Kansans will want to keep themselves and others from getting sick and will be likely to voluntarily isolate themselves from others when sick to limit exposure," he said.
- 6News video: KDHE prepares for flu pandemic possibility (10-10-05)
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- Officials try to sort out who will do what if bird flu strikes (10-09-05)
- Bush presses vaccine makers to prepare for flu (10-07-05)
- State to release plan on pandemic next week (10-05-05)
- Centers for Disease Control
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Rodenberg noted that local health departments would play a key role in guarding against an outbreak as "our ears and eyes on the ground."
The Lawrence-Douglas County Health Department, and area health organizations, have an emergency plan to investigate the path of an illness, such as the flu, once a victim has been diagnosed.
People most at risk of serious illness or death from the flu should get a flu shot this month, officials said. That includes the elderly, chronically ill, and children from 6 months to 23 months old.
Last year, flu killed an estimated 36,000 people nationwide, according to federal officials.
In Kansas last year, Hansen said, 36 people died from flu - but 1,400 died from complications of the flu and pneumonia.