While Louisiana’s citizens prepare for seasonal flu, the state’s health care experts and medical professionals are preparing for a pandemic flu outbreak. It has been almost 40 years since the last pandemic flu outbreak swept the globe, killing more than one million people worldwide. However, health experts predict a worldwide influenza outbreak in the very near future, making planning critical.

Thursday the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals and Office of Public Health (DHH-OPH) will host a pandemic flu summit at the Gillis Long Center in Carville. LDH-OPH officials will teach the state’s health care providers and emergency personnel about the virus and how to prepare their agency or facility for this threat. Because a pandemic flu will affect the entire country, Louisiana cannot count on getting assistance from other states or the federal government.

"This is a very real threat," said LDH State Health Officer Dr. Jimmy Guidry. "It’s not a matter of ‘if’ a pandemic flu will strike, but a matter of ‘when.’ That’s why it’s imperative we meet and plan with the people who will be on the front lines when this virus emerges."

The state is also embarking on new training opportunities for health care professionals by offering a free Web-based pandemic flu course. The course will help provide doctors, nurses and allied health professionals the most up-to-date information on pan flu preparedness. The course was developed through a partnership between Louisiana and the University of North Carolina. Those taking the course can obtain medical professional credits. The course is online at http://nccphp.sph.unc.edu/training/HEP_LFLUP/certificate.php

A pandemic is a global outbreak of a new influenza virus. Because it would be a new strain, most people would not have immunity to the virus. The disease would be able to spread rapidly from person to person, causing large numbers of people to become ill. There were three pandemics in the 20th century alone, the most infamous being the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918, which killed over 50 million people worldwide.

"The fact that a pandemic stems from a new virus is what makes it such a threat," explained Dr. Guidry. "A vaccine would not be able to be developed for several months, and even when it is, it would not be available in mass quantities."

The need for this kind of preparation and concern is evident in the grim statistics predicted in the impact of a pandemic flu today. In Louisiana alone, as many as 6,000 people could be killed by a rampant new flu virus, and up to 22,000 could require hospitalization. The impact would reach every level of society as nearly 25 percent of the workforce is expected to be absent. Schools from kindergarten to college would face closures lasting months, and businesses and agencies would need to find a way to continue delivering essential services.