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News Release

 
   PO 360
   Trenton, NJ 08625-0360

   For Release:
  September 26, 2002

 

Clifton R. Lacy, M.D.
Commissioner

For Further Information Contact:
Donna Leusner or Marilyn Riley
(609) 984-7160


New Jersey Prepares for Possibility of a Flu Pandemic

TRENTON - Health and Senior Services Commissioner Clifton R. Lacy, M.D. and public health officials today announced a comprehensive preparedness plan outlining New Jersey's response to future influenza pandemics. A pandemic is a global infectious disease epidemic that could result in millions of deaths.

"New Jersey will now be ready if and when a novel flu virus with pandemic potential is detected anywhere in the world," Commissioner Lacy said. "This plan will optimize our response and minimize the impact of the illness, should an outbreak occur.''

"This initiative is also an important component of New Jersey's overall emergency and disaster preparedness efforts. In preparing for the naturally occurring threats of influenza and other emerging infections and disease outbreaks, we are also enhancing our capabilities to detect and respond to intentional health threats including those related to bioterrorism,'' Dr. Lacy added.

John Surmay, Health Officer of Elizabeth, who also represents the New Jersey Health Officers Association, joined the commissioner at the press conference today in Trenton. The plan is the result of a three-year collaboration involving numerous health organizations in both public and private sectors.

"The members of the New Jersey Health Officers Association endorse this plan and support efforts to prepare for influenza and other important public health challenges," Surmay said.

Influenza viruses are constantly changing, and each year's flu vaccine is formulated to reflect what is anticipated to be the flu strain for the coming season. Pandemics occur when influenza viruses shift to a new type - one to which most of the public has not been previously exposed and therefore which may result in more severe illness. Three influenza pandemics have occurred in the 20th century, including the "Spanish flu" of 1918 that killed more than 20 million people worldwide.

Experts consider another pandemic inevitable and estimate, at most, nine months time from the time a novel strain is identified somewhere in the world to the start of outbreaks in the United States. As a result, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) encouraged states to undertake influenza planning. New Jersey is the ninth state to complete such a plan. The plan estimates that, in this state, a pandemic could result in as many as 1.5 million outpatient visits, 35,000 hospitalizations, and 8,000 deaths.

New Jersey's plan is organized according to the six stages of a pandemic. The intensity of the public health effort - in the areas of disease surveillance, vaccine delivery, use of antiviral agents, communications and emergency response - varies based on stage.

A "novel virus alert" means a novel virus with pandemic potential has been detected in at least one person. A "pandemic alert" takes effect when that virus is shown to cause multiple cases in the same geographic area. A "pandemic'' is declared when there is further spread over several continents.

In the event of a pandemic alert, the New Jersey DHSS would activate its Pandemic Operations Center and its Influenza Pandemic Health and Medical Advisory Team that includes representation from a wide range of health care experts and providers.

"It is timely that this influenza plan be announced as we approach flu season,'' said Dr. Eddy Bresnitz, State Epidemiologist and Assistant Commissioner. "This serves as a reminder of the importance of influenza vaccination, especially for the elderly, anyone six months or older with a chronic illness and anyone over the age of 50 who would like to avail themselves of the vaccine,'' Dr. Bresnitz said.

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Department of Health and Senior Services
P. O. Box 360
Trenton, NJ 08625-0360

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