by Greta Petry (November
Team Plans for Possibility of Pandemic Flu Outbreak
It's that time of year again: Time for a flu shot, that is.
The University at Albany held a flu vaccination clinic at the Campus Center on Nov. 8; flu shots are also being offered at doctor's offices and a variety of places in the local community.
This year, in addition to concerns about seasonal flu, there are concerns about the possibility of a pandemic flu outbreak.
While a pandemic flu is quite different from the seasonal flu, it's "very important that people get that seasonal flu shot," said Vincent T. Franconere, co-chair of UAlbany's Pandemic Influenza Planning Team. While a flu shot will not protect against a new strain, it offers protection against the seasonal flu so that one's immune system will not be drained should a pandemic occur. Washing one's hands frequently is another important, common-sense way to lessen the spread of flu germs.
A pandemic flu refers to a widespread (global) outbreak of a rapidly spreading, severe disease, in this case, a highly virulent influenza strain. The prevalence of travel today provides the opportunity for a highly infectious organism, such as a new flu virus, to spread around the world in a few short weeks. There have been three pandemics in the last 100 years, in 1918 (Spanish Flu), 1957 (Asian Flu), and 1968 (Hong Kong Flu).
As U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt said earlier this year at the California Pandemic Planning Summit: "Pandemics happen. Let me acknowledge this is a hard thing to talk about. Anything we say in advance of a pandemic is alarmist; anything we say afterward is inadequate."
Three conditions must be present to qualify as a pandemic, according to the American College Health Association Guidelines for Pandemic Planning: "A new influenza virus subtype emerges; the virus infects humans; and the virus gains efficient and sustainable transmission from human to human."
The UAlbany Pandemic Influenza Planning Team represents areas that include safety, transportation, student affairs, academics, and the health center.
The team co-chairs are Vincent Franconere, director of Environmental Health and Safety, and Peter Vellis, director of Student Health Services. Robert G. Westphal, director of the School of Public Health's Center for Public Health Preparedness, is also an important source of information for the team. In developing a plan, the UAlbany team is working closely with the New York State Health Department and the Albany County Health Department, both of which would be key players in alerting the public to a health emergency.
For more health-related information, visit the University Health Center Web site.