Isles amass tools to halt pandemic
Nearly $3 million worth of gear is ready in case of an influenza outbreak
Hawaii's medical network has stockpiled close to $3 million worth of protective goggles, gloves, boots and other gear to shield its personnel if an influenza pandemic hits the islands, an official said yesterday.
The network is also building several 20-bed acute-care modules that can be set up to augment existing hospital facilities in the event of an outbreak, said Toby Clairmont, chairman of the emergency management committee of the Healthcare Association of Hawaii.
"This is not stuff we're going to do; this is stuff we've done," Clairmont told a conference in Waikiki on the threat to Hawaii from bird flu and a possible influenza pandemic.
He said Hawaii's medical professionals will need to handle any outbreak on their own because other states and the federal government will not be able to send assistance.
"We've pretty much reached a consensus that we're not going to be able to help each other," Clairmont said of the states. "We're all going to be fighting this battle at home. We're not going to have a lot of resources that cross borders and go into other states. So hoping and pleading for help from other states is not a reality."
Dr. Gregory Poland, an epidemic and vaccine expert at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., said a global flu pandemic of some form was inevitable.
He said that is regardless of whether H5N1 -- the highly virulent strain of bird flu that has already killed more than 100 people in Asia and the Middle East -- or some other strain sets off an outbreak.
Experts believe the H5N1 virus could trigger a human pandemic if it mutates and starts easily jumping from person to person.
Currently, most people who have contracted the disease are believed to have caught it from infected birds and not humans.
There have been three influenza pandemics in the past 88 years -- including the 1918-1919 Spanish flu, which killed as many as 100 million people. The World Health Organization Web site says the world is now closer to being hit with another influenza pandemic than at any time since 1968.
On Tuesday, WHO said the human death toll from H5N1 virus reached 103 after five people died from the disease in Azerbaijan.
Poland said those aiming to spot human cases of the H5N1 strain of bird flu should look for fever, fatigue and other typical influenza symptoms followed by high rates of vomiting and diarrhea.
Shirley Alvaro, an instructor at the University of Hawaii nursing school, said the conference helped her realize how important it was for her to make students aware of the signs and symptoms of H5N1.
She said she would also urge her students to make sure they got their annual flu shots.
"It encouraged me to be more alert to the importance of taking action right now in the area of prevention and just basic infection control," said Alvaro, who is also the emergency preparedness liaison officer with the Air Force Reserve in Hawaii.
The meeting brought together officials from the state Health and Transportation departments, emergency medical services and the military.