CHEYENNE — Planning for a possible flu pandemic shouldn't be just a government task but should be a priority for all households and businesses, officials said at a statewide summit Friday.
"When you go to the store and buy three cans of tuna fish, buy a fourth and put it under the bed," Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt said. "When you go to the store to buy some milk, pick up a box of powdered milk, put it under the bed. When you do that for a period of four to six months, you are going to have a couple of weeks of food. And that's what we're talking about."
If the bird flu now spreading around the world ever mutates into a flu pandemic strain that spreads easily from human to human, no state or community would be immune, Leavitt said.
"If a pandemic happens in the 21st century, it will come to Wyoming," Leavitt said at the Wyoming Pandemic Flu Summit. "You can count on it."
The H5N1 strain of avian flu has killed at least 95 people since 2003, mostly in Asia, according to the World Health Organization. The bird flu shows genetic similarities to the 1918 "Spanish flu" that killed millions of people around the world.
If a pandemic should occur, Wyoming could see 1,830 deaths, 8,178 hospitalized and an economic impact of $21.2 billion from loss of productivity and medical costs, according to "conservative" estimates presented by Anne Alexander, director of the Health Economics Policy Center at the University of Wyoming.
Gov. Dave Freudenthal said state government has been working on plans for a possible outbreak for about a year. But he said those plans wouldn't do much good if people didn't take them seriously.
"So there's a real emphasis on communication, participation and people understanding that — from the individual, to the businesses, to the hospital — everybody needs to have a certain level of information, a certain level of preparedness, which is both knowledge as well as a plan," he said.
Freudenthal said employers should be prepared to lose much of their work force for weeks at a time.
Leavitt said families should prepare the same way they would for a major blizzard, making sure they have first-aid kits and adequate supplies of food and water. Communities should practice what they would do in case of a flu pandemic outbreak, he said.
Communities that do not prepare, thinking the federal government will help in all their needs, will be "tragically disappointed," he said.
"With 5,000 different communities going through this at the same time, local preparedness is the key," he said.
If the pandemic does not occur, the preparations will mean states, communities and households will be prepared for other disasters, Leavitt said.
Freudenthal said the summit was called as a way of helping the state prepare for the possibility of a flu pandemic outbreak.
"It's important we maintain a commitment to be prepared," he said. "This is not an end in itself. This is a beginning."
During his visit as part of a 50-state tour to encourage local governments to get ready for a pandemic, Leavitt signed an agreement giving Wyoming $622,102 to help with planning.
"Preparedness saves lives," Leavitt said, standing in front of a sign with a world map that said "Pandemic Planning. Get Informed. Get Prepared."
On the Net:
Wyoming Department of Health: http://www.healthywyoming.org
U.S. Health and Human Services pandemic flu: http://www.pandemicflu.gov
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