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Archive for Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Be prepared

State and local health officials are looking ahead at how to deal with a possible outbreak of deadly flu.

October 12, 2005

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It's always better to be prepared for the worst.

That's why residents of Douglas County and the rest of Kansas can draw some comfort from the fact that state officials have a plan to respond to a flu pandemic that experts seem to think is inevitable, if not this year, then soon.

"Bird flu" is a scary prospect for Americans who tend to think modern medicine can protect them from such infectious diseases. Although many of us don't see the normal flu strains that strike the United States as life-threatening, officials estimate that 36,000 people died last year of the flu. In Kansas, 36 deaths were attributed to the flu and 1,400 to complications from the flu and pneumonia.

As bad as that is, it pales by comparison to the predicted deaths from the bird flu, which has killed millions of birds in Asia and been transmitted to 116 humans, 60 of whom have died. How great an impact this flu strain will have on humans remains to be seen, but officials in Kansas and across the nation are preparing for the worst.

Much of the effort will be focused on individuals getting flu shots and taking care of themselves by exercising, eating right and practicing good hygiene, like washing their hands frequently. Hospitals and officials, however, also are actively contemplating how they would handle a major flu outbreak.

Officials estimate a major outbreak of bird flu could kill up to 200,000 Americans. An outbreak of that size could require Kansas hospitals to handle up to 10,700 flu patients and could lead to as many as 2,500 deaths. Planning for such an event requires officials to consider how vaccines would be distributed, how patients could be quarantined and other measures to reduce the spread of the disease.

Officials have expressed concern that the bird flu might trigger an epidemic of the same proportions as the one that hit the United States in 1918 and killed 50 million people worldwide. Advances in medical science may help us avoid such losses if bird flu breaks out in Kansas, but it is nonetheless a frightening prospect. State and local officials deserve our thanks and support for undertaking the advance planning that may help lessen the impact of this deadly flu.

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