October 22, 2005
PANIC! or Prudence?
The Metchosin Community House was full to overflowing on October 14th with Pod leaders, Emergency Preparedness Committee members, Mayor Watson and most current council members as retiring “Pod God” Larry Hildreth welcomed John Hollemans to his new role as head of Pod coordination.
It seems like extreme events are almost becoming the norm and our Emergency Preparedness Committee has been busy assessing Metchosin’s readiness for unforeseen catastrophic events. Plans are afoot to place signage at the 20 metre mark above our marine shoreline, to warn that below this area is a Tsunami hazard zone. Fortunately, it seems we can learn from the tragedies of other populations.
Already somewhat familiar with routines to follow when confronted with floods, fires, storms and earthquakes, we are now being asked to prepare ourselves for an influenza pandemic. This is predicted to be a completely new strain of flu that mutates to form a superflu bug that will have global implications.
Called “The Elusive Plague”, the B.C. Centre for Disease Control, in cooperation with the Office of the Provincial Health Officer, has produced a video to help make communities and governments aware of the probable threat of a global influenza pandemic.
The “flu” is a viral respiratory illness that usually occurs in the fall and winter and causes coughs, sore throat, occasional fever and extreme lethargy and malaise, you can feel like you have been run over by a Mack truck. Seniors and those with compromised health are the most vulnerable to fatality and thousands of seniors across Canada die every year from this disease.
There are 3 types of influenza: A, B and C. C is a rare form, and A and B both cause year to year epidemics, with influenza B being a milder form. B and C are both associated solely with humans but A is also associated with birds and animals.
The usual annual flu bugs are described as viruses that mutate gradually and within certain parameters (like a subtle drift from light blue to dark blue), causing various degrees of illness, but being composed of pathogens for which our bodies have developed antibodies. The A virus is more changeable and elusive and occasionally, every 10 to 40 years, it will make a dramatic shift into a completely new subtype (like a shift from blue to yellow), for which we have no antibodies and we can be quickly overcome with the virus.
Influenza A develops in birds, then learns to shift to animals and humans. This can occur when there is close proximity between birds, animals and humans, in fact many pandemics begin in the Far East because of close living conditions between humans and animals.
The new Influenza A subtype adapts to humans and then quickly spreads person to person via the respiratory route through coughing, sneezing, laughing, etc. You can be the most infectious the 24 hours before symptoms even show.
The Spanish flu of 1918-1919 infected just about everyone, with 5% of the global population or 40,000,000 people, perishing. It was particularly deadly to young, healthy adults between 20-35 years of age, many succumbing within hours or days of becoming ill; 50,000 Canadians died.
The Asian flu of 1957 spanned the globe in 6 months and the second wave was even more severe than the first. A pandemic associated with the outbreak of The Hong Kong flu of 1997 was averted because of the slaughter of poultry before the virus learned how to pass from human to human.
It is predicted that the next pandemic will occur sometime in the next 5-10 years. It will probably begin in the summer and will reach Canada within 3-5 months. At 6-8 months, there will be peak mortality and each subsequent outbreak of the virus will probably be more severe. It is predicted that 3,000,000 plus British Columbians will be infected, 1,800,000 will be clinically ill, and 18,500 will be hospitalized. There could be 6,800 deaths. These numbers are projected from the 1957 and 1968 outbreaks, which were less severe than the 1918 pandemic.
Does this sound like fear mongering? It is a projected worse case scenario, that calls for communities to prepare for the worst and as the Girl Guides say, Be Prepared!
Canada has a Pandemic Influenza Plan, that “aims to assist and facilitate appropriate planning at all levels of government for the next influenza pandemic” . Fortunately, Canada is the first country in the world to plan for a secure vaccine supply through the contracting of a domestic supplier. The contract ensures that everything required for vaccine production, including the egg supply and storage facilities, is in place, although it could still take 6-12 months to produce enough vaccine once the virus strain has been identified.
What can be done?
• Plan how to administer vaccine as efficiently as possible, when it becomes available.
• Plan for numerous, mass immunization clinics.
• Each community will need their own “ stand alone” emergency preparedness strategy, with dedicated resources, as communities will not be able to rely on neighbouring regions, which will also be struggling.
• Increase both public and political awareness.
• Plan for a scenario that acknowledges much of the labour force might be unable to work, causing disruptions to essential community services.
Questions that need to be studied include:
• what is our current capacity for response?
• what will be the requirements?
• what gaps have been identified?
• how will vaccine be administered quickly?
• whom can be recruited to assist?
• how and where can the vaccine be safely stored?
• who will be considered as most critical to receive the vaccine?
• how do we deal with shortages of supplies, staff and facilities?
What can you do?
If this type of an event does occur, residents of rural communities such as Metchosin have some options which may promote wellness.
Obviously isolation from the virus is key. Our neighbourhood POD members would have to attempt to be as self-sufficient as possible. Residents will have to take a close look at what they need to do to live locally. Home vegetable gardens, orchards, and small holdings of livestock will be important. People need to become familiar with who is living in their neighbourhood POD.
Volunteer now to help with our Metchosin services such as Search and Rescue, the Fire Department, the Emergency Operations Centre and the Metchosin Community House. Individuals need to consider the possibilities of Pandemic and become aware of what Vancouver Island Health Authority and the Provincial Emergency Preparedness program have set up in preparation for a possible occurrence. Knowledge is power.
• cover your mouth with a tissue when you cough
• stay home when you are sick
• wash your hands frequently especially after touching your mouth, nose, eyes or used tissues
• get your flu shot; even though it is not effective against a pandemic virus, it will help keep your immune system strong, if it is not fighting another flu bug and it will help to build a larger capacity in vaccine production, supply and distribution.
Approximately one billion dollars are lost annually due to absenteeism, lost productivity and health care costs associated with the every day variety of the flu. Losses from a pandemic are expected to exceed that exponentially in addition to the tragic consequences to families and friends. It seems a prudent time to start considering Metchosin’s response to this predicted global pandemic catastrophe, before we panic.
BC Pandemic Influenza Plan website: http://www.bccdc.org/content.php?item=150
Canadian Pandemic Influenza Plan website:
Vancouver Island Health Authority website: www.viha.ca/
Provincial Emergency Preparedness website: www.pep.bc.ca/