September 26, 2006
State public health director addresses pandemic flu preparedness and response
Local health departments’ response critical during pandemic
TAYLORVILLE, Ill. – Dr. Eric E. Whitaker, state public health director, visited Taylorville and Shelbyville today to inform the Christian County and Shelby County Health Departments and board of health members about Illinois’ preparedness for a pandemic flu outbreak and to learn about preparations the health departments have taken to respond to a local emergency.
“The state of Illinois is working diligently to make sure we are prepared to handle a pandemic flu outbreak or terrorist act. Local health departments will play a major role in the response to such an event and it is important we communicate with them and know they are prepared,” said Dr. Whitaker.
The Illinois Pandemic Influenza Preparedness and Response Plan is a framework for Illinois to stop, slow or otherwise limit the spread of an influenza pandemic, sustain infrastructure, mitigate the impact to the economy and reduce social disruption. It provides state government with a set of preparedness activities and response functions. The plan also provides local health departments, health care provider systems and first responder organizations with preparedness and response expectations.
Dr. Whitaker talked about the differences between seasonal and pandemic flu; the transmissibility of the flu; the outcome, such as the projected number of deaths, hospitalizations and people who did not seek medical care; an overview of what kind of health care resources and services are anticipated; protective recommendations for the public; the impact on society; potential vulnerabilities; and what can be done.
The Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) held three pandemic flu tabletop exercises from March to May. Along with the Illinois Emergency Management Agency (IEMA), the Illinois Department of Agriculture, hospitals, health departments and other health organizations, IDPH discussed command decision making for issues such as availability and distribution of vaccine and antiviral medications; a priority system for who would receive the limited quantity of vaccinations and antivirals; the need for doctors, nurses and medical equipment; other facilities to house the sick that will be needed when the hospitals are full; and many other issues. IDPH also participated in FLUEX 2006, a full-scale, statewide exercise held during the first week of May which tested the states ability to manage a pandemic flu while also handling terrorist attacks. Preliminary review showed the exercise was very successful and that the state met its goals. A final review of the exercise will be available later this fall.
Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich hosted the Illinois’ Pandemic Influenza Readiness Summit in March and heard from U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt and state officials about pandemic influenza planning and preparedness.
IDPH also hosted “Partners Sustaining the Heartland,” an Illinois Bioterrorism Summit in Oak Brook in August 2006 for public health professionals involved in bioterrorism and emergency preparedness planning and response. The Summit provided a comprehensive overview of federal, state and local bioterrorism and emergency preparedness activities in Illinois.
This year, Governor Blagojevich allocated $2.5 million in new funding, plus $2.8 million more in federal funding for pandemic influenza preparedness including epidemiological data surveillance and analysis, diagnostic lab technicians, lab testing equipment upgrades, bio-safety level three lab space, training, web-based communications and local health department preparedness.
Dr. Whitaker has made a point of visiting as many health departments as he can. He has been to health departments for 59 counties, from the Southern Seven Health Department, which covers Alexander, Hardin, Johnson, Massac, Pope, Pulaski and Union counties to the Chicago Health Department. Some departments, like Macon County, he has been to more than once.
For more information about the Illinois Pandemic Influenza Preparedness and Response Plan, log onto www.idph.state.il.us and look under influenza.
of Public Health
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Springfield, Illinois 62761
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