Flu pandemic is a concern

Nedda Pourahmady

As seasonal flu symptoms are striking many people across the United States, pandemic influenza has become both a statewide and local concern.

Steve Meese, pandemic influenza coordinator at the Ohio Department of Health, said he is working on presentations in an effort to educate Ohioans about the pandemic.

“We’re taking a number of steps for community education,” he said. “We’ll address basic practices to prevent the seasonal flu.”

Meese said his department is also working with the education department by extending awareness messages to day cares and charter schools.

In the event that the World Health Organization announces a risk for the pandemic, Meese said the ODH will then disperse its $17.5 million in anti-viral medications.

“We have enough for 25 percent of Ohioans,” Meese said. “It’s projected that 25 percent of the state’s population will become ill during this pandemic.”

He said 90 percent of the anti-viral medication purchased are Tamiflu, while the remaining 10 percent are Relenza.

John Ferlito, commissioner for the Kent Health Department, said his department is also making efforts to spread awareness about the pandemic by handing out information, placing literature at local libraries and visiting schools.

Ferlito said the city has obtained money for general emergency planning from the Department of Homeland Security. He said between $5,000 and $6,000 has been spent in flu preparation.

“If we do have an outbreak, we can’t develop a vaccine until six or seven weeks,” Ferlito said.

Sarah Hallsky, health educator at the Portage County Health Department, said people can get the flu shot for $20 at clinics sponsored by the health department.

“At pharmacies, they are generally $30 to $40,” she said. “You will pay even more at a private doctor’s office because you will pay for the shot and an office visit.”

Additionally, Hallsky said the department encourages people to get flu shots starting Oct. 31. She said the influenza vaccine offers flu virus protection for three or four months.

“Cases of the flu are typically highest in late December through February,” she said. “Therefore, you will get the most protection from your flu vaccination by going in November and December.”

Although people are receiving flu shots, Hallsky said 36,000 Americans die from seasonal flu each year. Most cases of flu that turn out to be fatal involve people of extremely young or old age.

Flu Shot Clinic

Date: 11/6/2007

Time: 9 a.m. – 3 p.m.

• Where: Lower level-conference Room A, DeWeese Health Center

• Registration Ends: Nov. 5

• Open to all students, faculty, staff and dependents.

•Cost: Cost for service completely covered if enrolled in one of university sponsored group health plans (through Medical Mutual or Anthem). If not under this coverage, cost is $20 to participate.

*Register through Web site: www.uhs.kent.edu or call 672-2320 (Office of Health Promotion) for more information.

“This year, the various Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that everyone gets a flu shot, no matter what age you are,” Hallsky said. “Also, there are no anticipated vaccine shortages.”

To prevent the flu pandemic, Hallsky said the strategies are similar to those used to fight seasonal flu infections.

“These measures include washing your hands frequently,” she said. “The other best way to prevent the spread of any germ is to properly cover coughs and sneezes using your upper arm or elbow if no tissue is available.”

Furthermore, Hallsky said people can easily prepare for the pandemic by stocking up on non-perishable foods and water. She said the formula for water storage is one gallon per person per day.

Even though pandemic influenza has become a global issue, Meese said it’s more likely to occur overseas.

“Because of our mobile nature, it starts to show up here in the states,” he said. “Eventually, it will show up in Ohio, but to what degree, we don’t know.”

Contact public affairs reporter Nedda Pourahmady at [email protected]