The Louisiana Department of Health – Office of Public Health announced today the mass public distribution of 1.6 million handbooks designed to inform the public how to guard against the looming danger of pandemic flu.

“This is a very real threat,” said 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 we’re arming the public now with the knowledge of how to prepare and protect themselves against a pandemic event that could quickly sweep the world.”

A pandemic occurs when there 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.

A news conference is scheduled to kick-off the distribution event at 11 a.m. on Monday, June 18 at the LDH Emergency Operations Center located at 8919 World Ministry Ave. in Baton Rouge.  Dr. Guidry will speak about the importance of preparing for a pandemic flu event as well as alert citizens to anticipate receiving the handbooks.

The new pandemic flu handbooks are being shipped on June 18 and are expected to begin arriving in mailboxes around the state in the following days.  They contain information about vaccines and antiviral medications, learning how to change routines when it becomes necessary, travel precautions, what preparations are already underway, the importance of hygiene, and general education about pandemic flu.

“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 distribution of the pandemic flu handbooks is the latest in a series of efforts by the state to prepare for a pandemic event.  Since just last year, state officials have overseen a pandemic flu summit, the development of a pandemic flu plan, nine regional exercises, and one statewide drill with another planned for later this year. Later this month, New Orleans will host the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices Pandemic Influenza Preparedness Workshop. 

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. 

“The implications are very serious,” said Dr. Guidry. “That’s why we are urging everyone not to discard the handbook with their junk mail when it arrives.  You may need to put it aside for awhile, so keep it with your other emergency supplies.  You wouldn’t throw out your generator just because it’s not hurricane season… After all, the big one could always be just a few months away.”

For more information, contact Ken Pastorick or Avis Richard-Griffin with the Office of Public Health at (225) 763-3535.