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H1N1 Flu Focuses Attention on Local Preparedness

By Crystal D. Swann
May 11, 2009


The U.S. Conference of Mayors is closely monitoring the developing H1N1 virus, responsible for recent reported cases of “swine flu” in the United States and abroad, and its impact on U. S. cities. The Conference of Mayors held a meeting May 4 at its Washington, DC headquarters, where officials from the Departments of Homeland Security and Health and Human Services briefed the Mayors’ Washington representatives on the impact of the virus.

In the wake of recent outbreaks, the U.S. government has declared a public health emergency in the United States. The World Health Organization has raised its alert level to Phase 5, which is “a strong signal that a pandemic is imminent and that the time to finalize the organization, communication and implementation of the planned mitigation measures is short.” It’s important to note that the WHO advisory refers to the spread of the virus, not its strength or severity.

The Department of Health and Human Services, along with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), provide daily updates and briefing on the progress of the virus and new protocols developed for containing its spread. While U.S. cases to date have been mild and there is still much more to learn about this new virus, there are as of this writing over 400 confirmed cases of H1N1 flu in over 36 states.

CDC’s Division of the Strategic National Stockpile has completed distribution of 11 million doses of anti-viral drugs to all 50 states as required by law in cases of a public health emergency. In addition, CDC is continually updating and issuing guidances on its website regarding the procedures for determining whether and how to dismiss students from school.

Beyond schools, community-level social distancing efforts will be an important tool to slow the spread of swine influenza. Federal officials are encouraging Mayors to stress the importance of observing proper public health protocols, such as hand washing and staying home if you are sick. Simply put, ‘social distancing’ is a way of ‘keeping our distance’ from each other to lessen the spread of flu.

Here in Washington, state and local national health organizations have joined with Obama Administration to call for additional funding for state and local preparedness and response. Congress responded, including $2 billion in the 2009 Supplemental Appropriations for Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Pandemic Flu:

    $1.5 billion for priority efforts including supplementing federal stockpiles, developing and purchasing vaccines, and expanding detection efforts:

    $350 million to assist state and local governments in preparing for and responding to a possible pandemic; and

    $200 million to support global efforts to track, contain, and slow the spread of a potential pandemic.

    Nearly 36,000 people die from the regular seasonal flu each year. There will likely be more cases of H1N1 reported; we recommend that you contact your local health department and also monitor the following CDC websites for the latest information.

Questions and Answers About Novel H1N1 Flu at http://www.cdc.gov/h1n1flu/swineflu_you.htm

What to Do If You Get Flu-Like Symptoms at http://www.cdc.gov/h1n1flu/sick.htm

Interim Guidance for H1N1 Flu: Taking Care of a Sick Person in Your Home at http://www.cdc.gov/h1n1flu/guidance_homecare.htm

If you have any other questions, contact Assistant Executive Director Crystal Swann at cswann@usmayors.org or 202-861-6707.