Health concerns remain hot topic

Theresa Montgomery

Pandemic disease alarm out of sight but not out of mind

Just because the avian flu may not be plastering headlines as it was a few months ago, doesn’t mean it’s no longer a threat.

Federal, state and local organizations are methodically mobilizing people and resources to prepare the community for the outbreak of a pandemic disease that some say is a matter of when, not if.

The Northeastern Ohio Consortium for Biopreparedness at Kent State last week hosted an international conference on public health preparations for such a disaster. “People say this may never happen,” NEOCB Director Christopher Woolverton said. “I’m not one of those folks.”

He described a pandemic disease as an epidemic that is worldwide. People are susceptible to any disease previously limited to remote geographic regions, he said.

In December 2005, Gov. Bob Taft established the Pandemic Preparedness Coordinating Committee, which works with the Ohio Departments of Agriculture, Health and Public Safety in getting ready for problems a pandemic disease would create.

Federal funds are funneled through the Federal Emergency Management Agency into state, and then local organizations, said John Ferlito, Kent’s health commissioner.

Kim Villers is the Public Health and Bioterrorism Coordinator for Portage County. She and other public health officials participated in a outbreak drill on Sept. 21.

The hypothetical scenario was an E. coli outbreak, which had been planned prior to the actual outbreak that took place recently. In March, Kent State began generating a pandemic response plan for the university

The deadline for each department to have turned in its plan was Oct. 1.

“We got the chance to mobilize the plan on campus with the Hepatitis A patient,” Leone said. “It was because of the plan that we were able to steer it right.”

Contact public affairs reporter Theresa Montgomery at [email protected].