The Hamilton County Health Department, partnering with county and city government members and other community leaders, will begin the process of developing a local pandemic preparedness plan for protecting the citizens of Hamilton County in case of a pandemic today from 8:30 a.m. until 10 a.m.

The World Health Organization states it is only a matter of time before the avian flu mutates into a human-to-human contagion. The virus could then spread throughout the world, infecting thousands, possibly millions of people with a deadly strain of influenza.

"If a human-to-human bird flu virus occurred anywhere in the world, it could be in Hamilton County tomorrow," Sharon Gay, Director of Nursing of the Hamilton County Health Department said. "The H5N1 virus is particularly contagious among birds and some stains are resistant to antiviral drugs. Among humans who have been diagnosed with the disease, the mortality rate is almost 50 percent."

Such an event has the potential to virtually shut down the community, bringing daily life to a halt. The strain on the health care system, medical professionals and morticians is obvious, but what would be the effects on other segments of society? What if stores, offices and government buildings can't open for lengthy periods of time? What if Hamilton County was unable to obtain food and medical supplies? Hamilton County's infrastructure won't be affected - the problem will be how to use the limited manpower to operate and use it.

"Hamilton County will have to be completely self-reliant," Gay said, "Other counties and states will be dealing with their own needs."

This Week's Circulars