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If pandemic hits, will Panhandle be ready for it?

March 16, 2006|by DAVE McMILLION

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. - About 200 health, government and law enforcement officials and other professionals on Wednesday discussed ways to prepare for a flu pandemic if one hits the area.

The regional pandemic flu summit was at the Clarion Hotel and Conference Center.

A pandemic occurs when a new flu virus spreads easily among people around the world. Since a virus strain which causes a pandemic would be new, there would be little immunity to it and vaccines would likely take time to create, officials said.

A lot of the attention Wednesday was on the avian or bird flu. There is a concern that the avian flu could mutate and spread to humans, said Cathy Slemp, acting state health officer with the state Department of Health and Human Resources.

The Eastern Panhandle would have challenges to deal with if the avian flu hit here, officials said.

For example, health officials would be struggling with having enough medical staff to handle an outbreak, Jefferson County Health Officer Rosemarie Cannarella said.

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To address the situation, officials have discussed forming a "medical reserve corps" to supply the needed medical staff, Cannarella said.

The medical reserve corps would be made up of people like retired doctors, nurses and pharmacists who could help the area deal with a pandemic, Cannarella said.

Cannarella said anyone interested in being a member of the medical reserve corps may call the Berkeley County Health Department at 304-263-5131.

A second challenge locally would be a limited supply of ventilators, Cannarella said. Ventilators would be connected to flu patients to keep them alive, Cannarella said.

Regional pandemic flu summits like the one at Shepherdstown are being held across West Virginia. Other scheduled summits are to be in Huntington, Wheeling, Beckley and Elkins, officials said.

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