Vital Public Protection Measures in Case of a Flu Pandemic | Guest Commentary
Aug 26, 2007 | 354 views | 0 0 comments | 6 6 recommendations | email to a friend | print
By Maria Osterhaus, Public Health Intern, San Miguel County Public Health Nursing Service, and David Homer, M.D., Public Health Officer

The appearance of pandemic influenza anywhere in the world is expected to be followed within a few months by epidemics in the United States, including San Miguel County. In the absence of vaccine, controlling outbreaks of influenza can only be achieved by limiting transmission from person-to-person.

Throughout the duration of the pandemic, state and county health officials will issue detailed recommendations to San Miguel County residents on how to avoid catching and spreading the flu. The importance of each individual following the recommendations cannot be overemphasized. The cumulative effect of each individual successfully engaging in actions that reduce his or her chance of catching the flu will control the number of cases in the entire population. A sufficiently large percentage of the population must follow the recommendations for them to be effective in protecting the entire population.

To prepare for a potential pandemic, it is important for each individual to be informed on the modes of transmission and the strategies to avoid catching the virus. Being able to recognize the symptoms of influenza is also important.

In the event of a pandemic, each person must be prepared to limit exposure to the virus by avoiding those who may be sick. Basic practices such as hand washing and cough etiquette should be used as a means of preventing becoming sick. Since the virus is spread by contact with someone who is ill or by respiratory droplets, protect yourself from transferring the virus to your nose or mouth through touch by avoiding physical or close contact with persons having symptoms of the flu as well as objects those persons have touched.

If that is all there were to it, controlling outbreaks of the flu would be quite simple. Unfortunately, the care of most individuals with pandemic flu will fall to the family. Alerts will be issued regarding the proper care of sick individuals and ways to avoid exposure in the home. Since people will be contagious for up to 24 hours prior to showing symptoms, it may not be possible to maintain a distance of three feet from contagious individuals as is suggested. To address these issues, it is recommended that individuals practice frequent hand washing and the use of masks.

Another control strategy that may be implemented if chains of transmission can no longer be traced is community restriction. This refers to reducing community-wide interactions through restriction or limitation of public events, large public gatherings, or other activities. Public interactions that may be affected include religious gatherings, recreation events, public transportation, and businesses. These restrictions limit social interaction across an entire community as a means of lessening the likelihood that unwitting carriers of disease will come into direct contact with healthy individuals and infect them.

Unless steps are taken to prevent exposure, persons who contract influenza will pass it on to at least one more person. During a pandemic outbreak it will be the responsibility of each individual who becomes ill not to infect others by following health department recommendations.

The best thing the public can do is educate itself and their families, prepare emergency supplies and a plan, and ask what plans are being made in their workplace and schools. Recently, a survey was created to gauge the level of emergency preparedness in the county. To participate in the brief survey, visit To help prepare you and your family for pandemic flu or other public health emergencies, visit the Emergency Management page on the website and use these links:, and

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