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Peer-Reviewed, Online Database Showcases Local, County and State Pandemic Planning

Tuesday, September 25, 2007 General News J E 4
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WASHINGTON, Sept. 24 Public health plannershave a new tool to help them prepare for one of the most daunting publichealth emergencies: an influenza pandemic. PandemicPractices.org, launchedtoday by the Center for Infectious Disease Research & Policy (CIDRAP) at theUniversity of Minnesota and the Pew Center on the States (PCS), a division ofThe Pew Charitable Trusts, brings together more than 130 peer-reviewedpromising practices from four countries, 22 states and 33 counties. Compiledas a resource to save communities and states time and resources, the databaseenables public health professionals to learn from each other and to build ontheir own pandemic plans.

"The federal government has a national plan in place for a flu epidemic.But that plan will be useless unless states and local communities are readyand able to handle a public health emergency on the ground," said Jim O'Hara,managing director of Health and Human Services Policy at The Pew CharitableTrusts. "Communities across the country are facing the challenge oftranslating broad requirements into local action, often with limitedresources. This database is an excellent tool to help public health officialsinform their own pandemic planning and may save valuable time and resourcesthat would be spent crafting strategies from scratch."

Every winter, seasonal flu kills approximately 36,000 Americans andhospitalizes more than 200,000. Occasionally, a new flu virus emerges forwhich people have little or no immunity. Such a virus will spread worldwide,causing illnesses and deaths far beyond the impact of seasonal flu, in anevent known as a pandemic. A severe flu pandemic will last longer, sicken morepeople, and cause more death and disruption than any other health crisis. Inaddition to the human toll, a flu pandemic will take a serious financial toll.One report predicts a range -- from a global cost of approximately $330billion in a mild pandemic scenario, to $4.4 trillion worldwide under a 1918-like scenario.

Planning for a flu pandemic represents a challenge in public health. Noone can predict the severity of the next pandemic, and there is a shortage ofdata from past pandemics to help guide planning. Despite the hard work ofprofessionals across the public health community, America is unprepared foreven a moderate pandemic. For example, the public health research and advocacygroup Trust for America's Health noted in its 2006 report card -- supported inpart by The Pew Charitable Trusts -- that 25 states would run out of hospitalbeds within the first two weeks of a moderate flu pandemic.

"It is crucial that states, counties and cities continually enhance theirpreparedness for pandemic influenza," said Michael Osterholm, PhD, MPH, CIDRAPdirector. "This online database represents an important step by providingconcrete, peer-reviewed materials to further public health preparedness."

PandemicPractices.org highlights approaches that communities acrossAmerica have developed to address three key areas: altering standards ofclinical care, communicating effectively about pandemic flu and delaying anddiminishing the impact of a pandemic. Users can easily find practicesapplicable to their communities. The database can be searched by state ortopic, as well as by area of special interest, such as materials translatedinto multiple languages, materials for vulnerable populations, or toolkits forschools.

Among other topics, promising practices in the database showcase howcommunities plan to:

"Communities across America are looking for information and resources tohelp them plan for a flu pandemic. This database will be a vital contributionto those efforts," said Isaac Weisfuse, MD, MPH, deputy commissioner, New YorkCity Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, who served as an AdvisoryCommittee member and reviewer on this project.

Planners can examine and download pan
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