New Tool Assists Planners in Pandemic Preparedness

Public health planners have a new tool to help them prepare for one of the most daunting public health emergencies: an influenza pandemic., launched this fall by the Center for Infectious Disease Research & Policy (CIDRAP) at the University of Minnesota and the Pew Center on the States (PCS), a division of The Pew Charitable Trusts, brings together more than 130 peer-reviewed promising practices. Compiled as a resource to save communities and states time and resources, the database enables public health professionals to learn from each other and to build on their own pandemic plans.

The federal government has a national plan in place for a flu epidemic. But that plan will be useless unless states and local communities are ready and able to handle a public health emergency on the ground, says Jim OHara, managing director of health and human services policy at The Pew Charitable Trusts. Communities across the country are facing the challenge of translating broad requirements into local action, often with limited resources. This database is an excellent tool to help public health officials inform their own pandemic planning and may save valuable time and resources that would be spent crafting strategies from scratch.

Every winter, seasonal flu kills approximately 36,000 Americans and hospitalizes more than 200,000. Occasionally, a new flu virus emerges for which people have little or no immunity. Such a virus would spread worldwide, causing illness and death far beyond the impact of seasonal flu, in an event known as a pandemic. A severe flu pandemic would last longer, sicken more people, and cause more death and disruption than any other health crisis. In addition to the human toll, a flu pandemic would take a serious financial toll. One report predicts a range from a global cost of approximately $330 billion in a mild pandemic scenario, to $4.4 trillion worldwide under a 1918-like scenario.

Planning for a flu pandemic represents a challenge in public health. No one can predict the severity of the next pandemic, and there is a shortage of data from past pandemics to help guide planning. Despite the hard work of professionals across the public health community, America is unprepared for even a moderate pandemic. For example, the public health research group Trust for Americas Health noted that 25 states would run out of hospital beds within the first two weeks of a moderate flu pandemic.

It is crucial that states, counties and cities continually enhance their preparedness for pandemic influenza, says CIDRAPs director, Michael Osterholm, PhD, MPH. This online database represents an important step by providing concrete, peer-reviewed materials to further public health preparedness. highlights approaches that communities across America have developed to address three key areas: altering standards of clinical care, communicating effectively about pandemic flu and delaying and diminishing the impact of a pandemic. Users can easily find practices applicable to their communities. The database can be searched by state or topic, as well as by area of special interest, such as materials translated into multiple languages, materials for vulnerable populations, or toolkits for schools.

Among other topics, promising practices in the database showcase how communities plan to manage scarce resources during a pandemic, share core messages in multiple languages, safeguard vulnerable populations, provide medical care when hospitals and clinics are overwhelmed, teach people to care for ill family members at home, and engage schools to reduce the spread of illness.

Planners can examine and download pandemic flu planning materials and use or adapt them to fit local needs. The database allows cities, counties, states, hospitals, clinics and community organizations to find materials that may enhance their pandemic preparedness.

Dont miss our cover story on helping your facility prepare for a disaster, starting on page 12.

Until next month, bust those bugs!

Kelly M. Pyrek 
Group Editor, Virgo Medical Group