Monday Medical: Be prepared for flu pandemic |

Monday Medical: Be prepared for flu pandemic

Riley Polumbus

— Just as the global economy feels the effect of the U.S. market crisis, a virus also can make a worldwide impact. Health experts say we are due for another flu pandemic, an outbreak so big and powerful it would spread across the planet, infecting millions in its path.

Like an unexpected natural disaster, a flu pandemic, or worldwide outbreak of the virus will catch us unaware. It will affect even the healthiest individuals. It will spread across the globe quickly. Only after several months of infection will a vaccine be developed to help combat the new strain of influenza.

How’s that for doom and gloom? However, there are steps we all can – and must – take in order to prepare for the next pandemic outbreak of influenza. Many scientists and disease experts think another large-scale viral eruption is not only likely but overdue. That is why communities across the world – including Steamboat Springs – are busy planning for the inevitable.

The first step is to educate the public. Yampa Valley Medical Center is teaming up with the Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association and Family Medicine of Steamboat Springs for a presentation this week.

On July 10, nearly 350 local residents attended the Seminars in Steamboat lecture “The Next Influenza Pandemic: A Harbinger of Things to Come?” Dr. Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy, presented shocking scenarios of what could happen if a flu pandemic were to strike today.

Thursday’s presentation follows up on Osterholm’s lecture and discussion. YVMC Infection Prevention Coordinator Steve Hilley, R.N., explained why such a follow-up is necessary.

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“Educating yourself about how a virus can spread is the first step toward being prepared,” Hilley said. “Although isolated, Northwest Colorado is at risk. Residents and visitors travel from one end of the earth to the other in a matter of hours. We are all vulnerable to a quick-spreading virus.”

It is important to point out that pandemic flu is not the same thing as seasonal influenza, which comes around every fall and winter. Seasonal flu is dangerous primarily for the elderly, children and people whose immune systems are weakened by chronic illnesses. Most people can avoid the flu and its sometimes fatal complications by getting a yearly flu shot. With pandemic flu, however, everyone would be at risk. It would result from an all-new virus, rather than an annually evolving one.

We assume advancements in medicine have improved since the 1918 to 1919 pandemic outbreak of Spanish Flu that killed an estimated 30 to 50 million people worldwide. However, as our medical knowledge advances, so does disease. We take for granted that science keeps us ahead of the game. However, viruses fight back.

At Thursday’s presentation, Hilley will dispel some of the myths associated with vaccinations. He emphasizes the importance of annual flu shots as another important step toward preparation.

“Getting a flu shot and practicing good hygiene with intensive hand washing is paramount,” Hilley said. “Awareness, preparedness and cooperation will be crucial during a pandemic.”

Hilley also recommends that every home have an emergency plan that is discussed ahead of time, as well as an emergency preparedness kit.

Thursday’s presentation will feature Hilley, VNA Emergency Preparedness and Response Coordinator Jim Johnsen, EMT, MBA, and Rosanne Iversen, M.D., of Family Medicine Steamboat Springs.

The program will summarize national, state and local planning efforts. Speakers also will explain the differences between pandemic and seasonal influenza, how the flu spreads and how people can protect themselves from germs. Brochures will be available.

Take the first step toward preparedness and educate yourself. Be prepared for the future.

Riley Polumbus is a communications specialist at Yampa Valley Medical Center.

Learn more

“Pandemic Flu Are You Prepared?” is a free community health program that will be presented by Dr. Rosanne Iversen, Steve Hilley and Jim Johnsen at 7 p.m. Thursday at Yampa Valley Medical Center’s Conference Room 1. For more information, call YVMC’s Wellness program at 871-2500.