Officialsworking on pandemic response

Published on Thu, Nov 17, 2005 by eg Olson

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Officials working on pandemic response

By Meg Olson

Whatcom County is putting together a plan to respond in case of an avian influenza pandemic.

On October 14 Blaine police chief Mike Haslip told city council he and other representatives from county public health and safety agencies had come together for a “pandemic summit” organized by county executive Pete Kremen.

“Nobody knows if we’ll have a pandemic, but it’s more and more likely,” Haslip said. While the H5N1 virus is currently infecting humans only in Asia and its transmission usually occurs through contact with infected poultry, Haslip said the virus is now found in birds in Europe.

Since 2003, 100 human cases of the virus have been diagnosed and over half of those infected have died. “That’s 50 percent mortality. That would be terrifying,” Haslip said.

Locally, governments will start working on how to respond if a widespread outbreak of the disease should require taking actions such as closing schools, halting public transportation and interrupting other public services. “We need to develop some depth in specialized professions so there isn’t only one person who can do a job,” Haslip said.

In the next six months Haslip said a working group would draft a plan to guide community and individual responses to a potential pandemic. “It would be much like an earthquake or a nationwide emergency where we would pretty much be left to our own devices,” he said.