Pandemic: California is Out Front in Trying to Prepare for Disaster
By Deb Kollars, The Sacramento Bee, Calif. , June 3
History gives good reason for worry: In the past century, three flu pandemics have struck worldwide, and all came from avian strains. The most recent was the Hong Kong flu in 1968-69, which killed 34,000 Americans. In 1918-19, the Spanish flu killed 550,000 Americans.
"Pandemics are like hurricanes, tsunamis and earthquakes. They occur," said Michael T. Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota. "Even a mild or moderate pandemic would have tremendous implications."
Osterholm said the dwindling public concern is a dangerous trend. In a serious pandemic, a third of the population could become sick. It would overwhelm not just medical services, but could slow or shut down many corners of the economy if workers were too sick to do their jobs.
Yet, he noted, Congress passed an emergency spending bill last month that was stripped of $650 million for pandemic preparedness.
"People just don't believe it is going to happen," he said.
California's top health officials are taking the threat seriously.
The state also spent $20 million to buy 51 million face masks, known as respirators, to protect medical staff working with sick patients. The disposable N95 filtering masks, manufactured by 3M of St. Paul, Minn., must be changed many times daily. State officials estimated as many as 100 million could be needed.
According to Grant Barrick, product marketer within 3M's occupational health and environmental safety division, global demand for the respirators has been huge. Last month, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration cleared 3M's respirators for general public use in a health emergency.
"We've been working almost 24-7 since the onset of this strain of avian flu to make sure we can produce the volumes needed," Barrick said.
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