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Sagadahoc EMA prepares for potential H1N1 spike

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Sagadahoc EMA prepares for potential H1N1 spike

BATH — To prepare people for a potentially harder-hitting influenza season, the Sagadahoc County Emergency Management Agency has created a public relations task force, H1N1 Community Partners in Flu Preparedness.

Among the points that the task force wants to get out to the public this month is the importance of individual and family preparedness, according to Sagadahoc County EMA Director Misty Green. In the event that as much as 40 percent of the population becomes sick and people cannot go into the public without facing the chance of contracting or spreading the H1N1 virus, also known as the swine flu, residents should stockpile food for a minimum of two weeks, Green said. This step is also critical in case food ceases to arrive in the area due to the spread of the illness reaching a level to stop business as usual.

Green said the worst case scenario for the pandemic could see up to 90 million Americans becoming infected, with 9.9 million hospitalizations, nearly 1.5 million intensive care admissions and 1.9 million deaths.

This is strictly a worse case scenario, Green said, but one to be taken seriously and planned for.

"It most definitely isn't to scare anybody but to make them understand why they need to prepare now," she explained.

Another component of the task force's outreach initiative is getting businesses to understand the need to establish a Continuity of Operations Plan. This plan allows businesses to determine the point at which they need to employ "social distancing" to protect their workers and the public, Green said.

"The employers need to understand that at one point they could have 40 percent of their workers out sick or at home taking care of family members," she explained. "Without thinking about this now, and planning for this now and educating their employees in respiratory etiquette, it likely could shut them down very quickly if they don't have a back-up plan in place."

For example, Green added, "it could get to a point where financial institutions only use the drive-up window for transactions to protect the employees and the citizens. The business owners also need to make sure their employees understand that they won't be penalized if they do have flu symptoms and can't come into work. That will be key in stopping the spread and keeping their business functioning even longer."

It is also critical for people to not only receive the regular seasonal influenza vaccine but also both potential rounds of H1N1 when they arrive in either late October or early November. The seasonal influenza vaccine will help prevent a person from catching the virus and having a weakened immune system, lessening the chances of fighting off H1N1 if that person catches it.

Sagadahoc EMA has also been working closely with all the schools in the county as well as Midcoast and Parkview hospitals to ensure the highest possible success of the fall seasonal influenza mass vaccinations.

Explaining the importance of protecting children from the virus, Green pointed out that the school setting will be an ideal place this fall for the H1N1 virus to spread more rapidly.

Green's agency has additionally formed a group to look into alternative care sites in the event that hospitals become overloaded and at capacity this fall with H1N1 cases.

"We are looking for key locations to alternatively care for those that are ill but aren't on respirators and need minimal care," Green said, referring to hydration and basic needs as examples. "This is a huge undertaking because of staffing needs and supplies, but a potential site has been identified and our group is trying to work out the logistics to make it as successful as possible."

Sagadahoc EMA is also working to establish point of dispensing sites, many of which have been identified throughout the state and in each county, Green said. Such a site would be used if a mass vaccination of the entire population is required – for either a public health event like a pandemic or a terrorist or biological event.

"We have exercised this need potentially for H1N1 but would use it only in the event that health care providers and doctor's offices were overloaded with giving the H1N1 vaccine to the entire population," Green said. "That is something that could be used and will be used if the need is identified."

Log onto the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention Web site, mainepublichealth.gov, for statewide information, or e-mail Green at sagema@sagcounty.com for local information. The CDC's general public call-in number is (888) 257-0990.

Alex Lear can be reached at 373-9060 ext. 113 or alear@theforecaster.net.