Health official offers advice about bird flu
The motto "always be prepared" isn't just for the Boy Scouts.
Jane Shirley, public health emergency coordinator for the Jefferson County Health Department, believes the best defense for anyone against bird flu is education and preparation.
During a forum Monday night on pandemic flu, she said it's time to start thinking about what to do when the flu arrives.
Since December 2003, a total of 230 cases of bird flu have been reported around the world -- and 132 of those cases have resulted in death, she said.
Even though it's probable the virus will make it to the United States, taking some simple steps could lessen the effect.
"We have to reassure people not to live in fear. We have to go on," Shirley told those at the forum.
The first step is for each household to update their list of emergency contact numbers. The aftermath of Hurricane Katrina shows people need an emergency contact in another state, if possible.
And Shirley recommended that all immediate family members know the medical history, allergies, blood type and other health information about one another.
Stockpiling important items also is key. And water is at the top of the list.
For more information:
¢ Official U.S. government site: www.pandemicflu.gov
¢ U.S. Depart of Homeland Security: www.ready.gov
¢ Federal Emergency Management Agency: www.fema.gov
¢ American Red Cross: www.redcross.gov
¢ Kansas Center for Public Health Preparedness: www.kdheks.gov/flu/pandemic_influenza.htm
¢ Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: www.cdc.gov
Source: Jefferson County Health Department
"There are a lot of things you can live without but you can't live without water," she said.
And she suggested these items be available in case of an emergency: non-perishable food, clothing, medications, flashlights, can openers, battery-powered alert radios, hygiene items and a first aid kit.
She said that a family should also keep enough cash on hand for one week so those items could be purchased if necessary.
Much of the forum also focused on how businesses can ensure they were prepared.
Shirley said that businesses should come up with detailed procedures so they can still function.
She said that over eight weeks the bird flu could make 20 to 30 percent of employees unable to work. This would affect many important businesses that serve the community so, she said, it would help if businesses would make plans.
Joy Mestagh, owner of Home Town Foods in McLouth, attended the forum and said that if people didn't start getting prepared there was more potential for panic. And she was surprised only 14 people attended the forum.
"People just think that if they put it out of their mind and don't have to think about it then it's not going to happen," she said. "It's not if this is going to happen, it's when."