MARRERO—State health and emergency preparedness officials and their regional and parish partners today shared experiences from the spring “swine flu” outbreak and offered new guidance for local community planners to prepare for an expected fall resurgence of the novel H1N1 flu pandemic.
“We know largely what to expect before, during and after a hurricane because we have all experienced them. This is something very few of us have experienced before,” LDH Secretary Alan Levine told local emergency planners in opening remarks at the state’s H1N1 Summit, held at West Jefferson Medical Center in Marrero. “The main things you can do are to think differently, be flexible and use common sense” in all approaches to pandemic flu preparedness and emergency response.
“Ultimately, every emergency has its own personality,” Levine said. “No matter how well we plan, things can happen that we just didn’t know would happen. Everybody just needs to be well prepared, flexible enough to change their thinking as needed, and use common sense to coordinate our approach at the state and local level.”
Levine was one of several health and emergency response officials to address an auditorium of parish and municipal officials, planners, hospital and emergency medicine officials, and other health workers during the all-day summit.
Dr. Frank Welch, the state medical director for pandemic preparedness, offered an overview of the virus and discussed how the fall resurgence will be handled differently than the spring outbreak.
Little was known about the virus at first in the spring, or how seriously it could affect people’s health, so medical workers and even school and other local officials were encouraged to proceed with an overabundance of caution, resulting in several school closures throughout Louisiana and the nation.
Because the H1N1 virus has proven to be fairly mild for most normally healthy people, health officials will focus this fall on prevention for most people and aggressive treatment of cases severe enough to require hospitalization, Dr. Welch said.Most infected individuals will be encouraged to self-treat their flu-like symptoms at home, call their physicians for advice if needed, and remain isolated until they are fever-free for 24 hours, without the assistance of a fever reducer.
Everyone can help reduce the spread of the new H1N1 flu as well as seasonal flu if sick people stay home, and if non-infected people practice good hygiene and stay away from sick people.
When a H1N1 vaccine is made available to the public, probably in December or January, people at high risk for complications from the flu should get it, Dr. Welch said. This includes children five years old or younger; pregnant women; people with underlying chronic health conditions such as asthma, diabetes or heart conditions; and direct care health workers, who will be working with vulnerable people on a daily basis.
“Because the new H1N1 flu vaccine won’t be available until at least December, it is important for people to get a seasonal flu shot, too, to help avoid getting seasonal flu this year, as well” Dr. Welch said.
For the latest information on the H1N1 virus, visit www.FluLa.com. The Louisiana Department of Health strives to protect and promote health statewide and to ensure access to medical, preventive and rehabilitative services for all state citizens. To learn more about LDH, visit http://www.dhh.louisiana.gov .