Preparedness Planning for Businesses – Pandemic Influenza and Bioterrorist Attacks

Burkhart, Janie; Wilder, Christopher
(Santa Clara County Public Health Office of Disaster Medical Services)

Influenza pandemics occur naturally and recur at more-or-less cyclical intervals. In the 20th century there were three pandemics, the worst in 1918. The current avian flu strain (H5N1) has greatest potential to evolve into a human influenza pandemic. If a pandemic occurred today we could expect a case fatality rate of 1-5%. In Santa Clara County, (SCC) that would mean 22,500-31,000 deaths. Hospitals and the healthcare overall system would be quickly overwhelmed by the anticipated ½ million ill people who need care. Never before in history has there been an opportunity to plan for such a Public Health crisis and it is incumbent upon us all to do so. Preparing for a pandemic is different than preparing for other emergencies or disasters. Because many, and eventually all, geographic areas will be affected at the same, aid cannot be expected from other areas and limited or no assistance should be anticipated from State and Federal governments. The role of environmental safety and health, occupational medicine, human resources should all be involved in response and recovery planning. In addition to affecting hundreds of thousands of works in this county, local high technology companies may also have a role to play in maintaining essential services in a pandemic. Mass prophylaxis, the distribution of a large amount of medication in a short time frame, may be required to prevent death and disease following a bioterrorist attack. Inhalation Anthrax, for example, has a mortality rate of 90% without treatment but can be prevented with the rapid deployment of antibiotics. Local Public Health Departments are charged with developing Mass Prophylaxis Plans, but the goal of mass dispensing of medications cannot be achieved by Public Health alone. Partnerships with a wide variety of sectors including business and corporations must be established. A key strategy in Mass Prophylaxis plans is to locate a number of Points of Dispensing (PODs) throughout the community that can be rapidly mobilized and set up as medication distribution centers. If large businesses and corporations could dispense medications to their own employees and their families, then a large portion of the population would not have to report to a community POD. In Santa Clara County, Public Health has been working with businesses and corporations to open up their facilities to the local community as well, providing access to medications for their own employees and their families and local community members living in close proximity to the business site. Some of the advantages to a business in becoming a POD are (1) easy access for company staff and their families to medications (2) support for the company’s business continuity plan (3) providing an important community service (4) increasing involvement of the private sector in public sector decision making.

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