HHS Provides Planning Guidance for Pandemic-Flu Preparedness
The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and its Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in cooperation with departments and agencies across the federal government, have launched two new efforts designed to improve state, local, and community preparedness for an influenza pandemic.
CDC has released new guidance on community-planning strategies that state and local community decision makers, as well as individuals, need to consider, taking into account the severity of an influenza pandemic. These strategies are important, because the best protection against pandemic influenza--a vaccine--is not likely to be available at the outset of a pandemic.
The new guidelines focus primarily on community-level measures that could be used during an influenza pandemic to reduce the spread of infection. To help authorities determine the most appropriate actions to take, the guidelines incorporate a new pandemic-influenza planning tool for use by states, communities, businesses, schools, and others. The tool, called the Pandemic Severity Index (PSI), takes into account the fact that the amount of harm caused by pandemics can vary greatly, with that variability having an impact on recommended actions for public health departments, schools, and businesses.
The PSI, which is modeled after the approach used to characterize hurricanes, has five categories, with Category 1 representing moderate severity and Category 5 representing the highest severity. The severity of a pandemic is primarily determined by its death rate, or the percentage of infected people who die. A Category 1 pandemic is as harmful as a severe seasonal-influenza season, while a pandemic with the intensity of the 1918 flu pandemic, or worse, would be classified in Category 5.
Government and health officials may recommend different actions communities can take depending on the projected severity of the pandemic. These actions, which are designed primarily to reduce contact between people, may include
1. asking ill people to remain at home or not go to work until they are no longer contagious (for seven to 10 days); ill people will be treated with antiviral medication if drugs are available and are effective against the pandemic strain at issue;