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Preparing for Pandemic Flu

South Burlington, Vermont - June 15, 2005

The World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control have urged local governments to prepare for a catastrophic outbreak of the flu. Health leaders say another flu pandemic is coming and it might be the "Bird Flu."

The Vermont Health Department held a drill Wednesday. It was called "Operation Achoo!" -- a comical name for a serious drill.

"The Vermont Health Department and other local agencies are very concerned about this," said State Epidemiologist Dr. Cort Lohff.

The table-top drill tested the state's Pandemic Flu Plan. The scenario -- hospital and emergency officials respond to a widespread outbreak in Vermont. One out 3 Vermonters affected.

"We know a pandemic is coming," said Dr. Lohff. "We need to be prepared for the worst case scenario."

Resources would be stretched thin during a deadly outbreak. So, health and emergency officials must be ready. They would have to quickly identify the strain and coordinate a plan of attack. Vaccines and hospital space would be limited. Public alerts -- a must.

"One of the biggest challenges would be communication," said Dr. Lohff.

It's unclear which strain will lead to the next pandemic. Right now, world health leaders fear the "Bird Flu."

The illness, now in Southeast Asia, has killed millions of chickens and fifty people who handled infected birds. Currently, the "Bird Flu" cannot be transmitted by humans. But if the virus mutates, it could have catastrophic results.

Three flu pandemics have occurred during the 20th century so far. Health officials say there's no way to tell when the next one will hit. But again, they say it's coming. Preparations will continue at the state level and health officials expect to put the Response Plan to a field test sometime next year.

Darren Perron - Channel 3 News

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