Friday, May 1, 2009

Fulton County 'Ready to Vaccinate a Million People In 48 Hours'

Fulton County 'Ready to Vaccinate a Million People In 48 Hours'

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Ever since all of the bird flu cases four years ago, county health departments across Metro Atlanta have been holding drills and meetings every month, practicing and discussing every imaginable scenario of a flu pandemic.

They believe they'll be ready if cases of swine flu spread across the region.

"We've been planning for this for years," said Dr. Kim Turner, the director of public health in Fulton County. "We're prepared to vaccinate a million people within Fulton County within 48 hours."

Dr. Turner said a swine flu pandemic would probably stretch Metro Atlanta's E.R.s and hospitals and clinics to their absolute limits, but would not overwhelm them.

"We have drills with communities" across the region, she said, practicing their Pandemic Flu Response Plan, "to simulate an incident, if this were to occur. So we're quite prepared and quite ready."

She has every hospital and clinic on alert, now, for possible swine flu cases.

The CDC said about 11 million doses of flu-fighting medications from a federal stockpile have been sent to states in case they are needed - roughly one quarter of the doses in the stockpile.

While there presently is no vaccine available to prevent the specific strain now being seen, there are antiflu drugs that do work once someone is sick. If a new vaccine eventually is ordered, the CDC already has taken a key preliminary step - creating what's called seed stock of the virus that manufacturers would use.

Another line of defense is at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport -- the CDC's medical quarantine station at the airport.

CDC physicians are in contact with arriving flight crews, and board every plane that has an ill passenger, as soon as the plane is parked at the gate. The physicians determine on the spot whether to quarantine that patient and all the other passengers. The CDC quarantines them at the CDC's sealed rooms on E Concourse.

The CDC has passenger quarantine facilities at 20 U.S. airports.

No word, yet, on whether any possible swine flu cases have been detected at the airports in the past week or two.

In October, 2008, the CDC held a drill at the airport, practicing in real time as if flights were arriving full of people who needed to be quarantined immediately.

Parents like Wendi Aspes, taking their children out for evening playtime Monday at a northeast Atlanta park, are beginning to pay attention to the threat.

"We're being extra cautious right now, just making sure that hands are always washed, that kind of thing," Aspes said as she pushed her ten-month-old daughter in a swing. "I think it's very serious.... I'm definitely reading a lot, everything I can get my hands on, on line, I've been reading about monitoring it.... I think that a lot of people just think it's far away, they don't think it's here --and if it's not in your neighborhood and you don't know somebody who has it, sometimes people like to turn the other way."

Dr. Turner's advice -- be calm and be ready.

"This is not an emergency, we don't have anything going on" with any cases anywhere in Georgia. The preparedness is "just a precaution... to keep ourselves healthy and our families healthy."

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