Robins, public health officials plan for possibility of a flu pandemic Published Aug. 27, 2007 By 1st Lt. Sequoiya Lawson 78 ABW/PA Robins Air Force Base, Ga. -- Public health officials everywhere are telling people to put their face in their sleeves - that is, if they have to sneeze or cough. "Everyone's been taught to cover their mouths with their hands, but what goes on your hand gets on everything you touch," said Jennifer Jones, public information officer for the North Central Health District, which spans 13 counties including Houston. "Even schools are teaching children to use their sleeve (when they cough or sneeze) if they don't have a tissue." This is a good tip, especially during the normal flu season, which is typically between November and March, but also for an unexpected event such as a flu pandemic. A flu pandemic occurs when a new strain of influenza appears that can infect and spread easily among humans and can cause serious illnesses, said Ms. Jones. A flu pandemic can occur during any time of the year and since it could take several months to develop and distribute a vaccine for a new strand of influenza, there could be significant interruptions to daily life in a community. Since dealing with a flu pandemic in the local area would require coordination with several on base and off base agencies, Robins has teamed with the Houston County Pandemic Influenza Planning Committee to help inform and prepare the public for the possibility of a flu pandemic. The Robins Public Affairs office is a part of the media task force led by Mary Therese Tebbe, executive director of the 21st Century Partnership, an advocacy group for Robins. "The question is how do we prepare when, not if, a flu pandemic occurs," said Ms. Tebbe, adding that her goal is to make sure local media develop a plan on how to spread accurate information quickly throughout the local area. Ms. Jones said public health officials want people to plan not panic, since Middle Georgia is not currently experiencing a pandemic flu outbreak. "Planning now is the best thing families can do to be prepared in the event of a flu pandemic," said Ms. Jones. "People can prepare by keeping non-perishable foods and non-prescription drugs on hand, as well as planning how to care for a loved one if they get sick." Patricia Tooley, with the health flight at Robins, said precautions can be taken to avoid getting the flu. "Washing your hands after you eat, use the restroom or shake hands with people are a few universal health precautions people can take to prevent the spread of germs," she said. Ms. Tooley is a part of the health care team on the influenza planning committee which is currently working to develop a plan on how to provide health care to the local communities in the event of a flu pandemic, which would present a significant challenge because services would still be needed for emergencies and typical health issues in addition to caring for those who become sick with the flu. Despite better health care and greater ability to manufacture vaccines, new risks have developed with increased global travel and the threat of bioterrorism. According to data from the NCHD, up to 35 percent of the population will catch the flu during a flu pandemic. For more information on pandemic flu and how to prepare for its possibilities, visit www.pandemicflu.gov or www.northcentralhealthdistrict.com, or call the North Central Health District Office of Emergency Preparedness at 478-751-3029.