Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Flu virus infects joke

So they are ready for an influenza outbreak, are they? The good folks in northeast Colorado think so, at least if they believe their local newspaper, The Greely Tribune, acting as stenographer for the Weld County Department of Public Health and Environment.
Northeastern Colorado and Weld County residents don't need to worry about public agencies' preparedness in case of an outbreak of avian influenza or a bioterrorism attack in the region.

The Weld County Department of Public Health and Environment, in conjunction with several Weld agencies, simulated a full-scale exercise Wednesday morning to evaluate their readiness to respond to public health emergencies."
So what are they ready for?
The scenario simulated a statewide outbreak of avian influenza in humans, in which medicine and medical supplies were needed from the Strategic National Stockpile.

The health department set up a regional transfer point at the Weld County Food Bank, 1108 H St., to receive and repackage the materials before dispersing them to two of nine distribution sites in the region.
They really have their act together:
"It is very organized mainly because (we're dealing with) pharmaceuticals," Morrison said

Funding for the exercise was provided by a Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment grant and a state Homeland Security grant totaling $36,000, Blanden said.

Although there have not been many documented cases of avian influenza in humans, Blanden said it is probably the most important health threat at this time.

"An avian influenza pandemic probably will happen; it's just a matter of when," she said. "We have not had a pandemic influenza outbreak since the '50s. It's cyclic, so it will happen again."
Although the last pandemic was actually in 1968, at least they know there is a problem. Unfortunately they don’t seem to know that they don’t have the problem in hand. Here are the assumptions of the scenario:
  • A statewide outbreak of avian influenza in humans has occurred in northern Colorado.

  • The Weld County Department of Public Health and Environment has requested vaccine and anti-viral medication in addition to medical supplies through the Strategic National Stockpile to stop the spread of infection.

  • A regional transfer point must be set up to receive and process the materials, ship them to two distribution sites, one on the University of Northern Colorado campus and another at Roosevelt High School in Johnstown, and then distribute the medicines to the public.
The article in The Greely Tribune ends with a Fairy Tale (courtesy the CDC website):
The Strategic National Stockpile has large quantities of medicine and medical supplies that are free to protect the American public if a health emergency such as terrorist attack, flu outbreak or earthquake is large enough to eradicate area resources.

Once authorities agree supplies are needed, they will be delivered to any state within 12 hours. Each state has plans to receive and distribute the supplies to communities as quickly as possible.
I guess somebody forgot to tell the “reporter” that there is no vaccine for avian influenza in the Strategic National Stockpile nor is there likely to be; and that Colorado is not going to be first in line for the SNS’s meager supply of Tamiflu, enough for less than 1% of the US population.

I knew that influenza A virus was capable of infecting a number of different animal species, but this is the first report I’ve heard of the virus infecting a joke.

Because this is a mighty sick one.