By LINDA THOMAS
Special to the Pontotoc Progress
Doris Thomas was six months old when the Spanish Flu outbreak of 1918 hit Pontotoc County.
When her family was stricken with the illness, she said, a Toccopola neighbor brought food to their home and left it on the back porch so as not to be exposed to the flu.
Local businessman Jack Savely related that he had seen a cemetery in the Toccopola area where several children in one family were buried, having succumbed to the flu during the 1918 outbreak.
A widespread outbreak such as this is called a pandemic. A pandemic is a global disease outbreak. A flu pandemic occurs when a new influenza virus emerges for which people have little or no immunity and for which there is no readily available vaccine.
Can such an outbreak happen in Pontotoc again?
It not only can, it will, according to information from the Mississippi Department of Health which says it’s not a matter of if there will be such a flu outbreak, it’s only a matter of when.
Anyone who recalls the days of severe world-wide flu can understand why local, state and federal governments are taking early steps to be prepared in case of a pandemic flu outbreak. Modern medicine being what it is today, anti-viral medications may be quickly developed. However, until the virus appears in large enough numbers to be analyzed, a specific anti-viral medication cannot be perfected.
Other major flu pandemics in recent times include the Asian flu in 1957, and the Hong Kong flu in 1968.
With the very real threat on the horizon, several state agencies, including the Office of the Governor, are joining together in a public awareness campaign to help residents learn the importance of preparing for a possible pandemic flu outbreak.
The current concerns about a possible pandemic result from the continued spread of a highly pathogenic avian H5N1 virus across eastern Asia. The virulent strain of the disease is being spread by migratory birds. It can be transmitted from birds to mammals and in some limited circumstances to humans. Like other influenza viruses, it continues to evolve.
Symptoms of pandemic flu are similar to seasonal flu, but usually are more severe. They include:
• Sore throat and cough
• Fatigue and weakness
• Runny nose
• More medical complications, including pneumonia.
Treatment of pandemic flu should include antiviral medication. Mild cases can be treated at home. Remember the following precautions:
• Stay away from others to avoid getting them sick.
• Do not share eating or drinking utensils with others.
• Get plenty of rest.
• Stay hydrated by drinking water.
• Take over-the-counter medications to treat fever, cough and congestion.
• Do not drink alcohol or use tobacco products.
Ricky Jaggers, director of Emergency Management Services of Pontotoc County, reports that all first response personnel in Pontotoc County have been trained to help manage a local emergency such as the pandemic flu.
In fact, Heath Williams, Mississippi Department of Health, said Mississippi is the first state in the country to receive a “green” designation, meaning that all districts are fully capable of handling any emergency.
The Mississippi Department of Health also offers these suggestions for preparing for a pandemic.
Make a plan that includes:
• Alternate child care if schools or daycare centers close,
• What you may need for the care of relatives in your home, and
• What to do if your workplace needs to close.
Create an emergency kit with:
• A two-week supply of water and non-perishable food,
• First aid supplies and prescription medication,
• Contact lists and important medical information, and
• Radio and extra batteries.
Practice good health habits, such as washing your hands regularly and coughing and sneezing into a tissue or into your upper sleeve.
Work with relatives, neighbors and community in preparedness efforts.
According to Vicki Reese, RN, Mississippi Department of Health, businesses should develop plans for relocating staffing in the event of significant flu outbreak.
Company owners and managers should re-evaluate present company policies regarding sick days. They sometimes expect employees to work even if they are ill. If an employee reports to work with signs and symptoms of flu, he or she will expose others to the virus and many more work hours will be lost.
Mississippi residents will find information about pandemic flu and the state’s preparedness at www.pandemicflu.ms.gov or 1-866-HLTHY4U (1-866-458-4948).