Taking action against pandemic influenza

September 29, 2006

An imminent influenza pandemic is inherently unpredictable, but preparation is justifiable, said Jonathon Temte, MD, Associate Professor, Family Medicine, University of Wisconsin, Madison.

An imminent influenza pandemic is inherently unpredictable, but preparation is justifiable, said Jonathon Temte, MD, Associate Professor, Family Medicine, University of Wisconsin, Madison.

Any effort to impact the spread of influenza, even a highly lethal strain, can have a "profound effect" in stemming morbidity and mortality, he said. "I don't believe there's nothing we can do," he added.

Dr Temte suggests that the flu season is a perfect time to practice public health measures that limit the spread of influenza. Plan in the clinic now for the segregation of patients with respiratory complaints. Stockpile surgical masks, gowns, and gloves. Order posters on personal protection and hygiene.

Remind staff and patients alike that that frequent hand washers have fewer self-reported respiratory illness than infrequent hand washers. Infrequent hand washers also have significantly more hospital admissions.

Review staff and patient vaccine needs and priorities. Identify personnel who are likely to be unavailable due to demands from sick children or elders.

The last monumental flu pandemic in 1918 killed 500,000 people in the United States, noted Dr Temte. The likelihood of an influenza disaster of that scale is mitigated by the many health advances that have occurred since, including antibiotics, influenza vaccination, therapeutic use of oxygen, mechanical ventilators, antivirals, and mass communications.