Pandemic influenza: prepare for the worst, but hope for the best.

Author:Jones, Shari

The Oklahoma Department of Corrections has approximately 25,000 inmates located in 51 facilities around the state, which range from community work centers to maximum-security institutions. In addition, the DOC has more than 4,500 employees, making it the second largest state agency.



Due to the increasing threat of pandemic flu, the DOC has taken steps to prepare for the possibility of such an outbreak. Pandemic influenza is defined as a global outbreak of an influenza virus for which people have little or no immunity and for which there is no vaccine. This will happen when a new flu virus emerges in human beings, spreads easily from person to person and causes serious illness. The next pandemic flu is most likely to be the H5N1 strain (avian influenza), which has its origins in bird populations and has recently been transmitted to humans. So far, the spread of this particular virus has been limited to bird-to-human transmission. This strain has not been spread from person to person efficiently, but if it mutates and develops the ability to do so, it is likely to produce the next pandemic. This H5N1 strain is projected to have widespread public health ramifications, with approximately 25 percent to 40 percent of the U.S. population becoming ill and 1 percent to 5 percent of the ill dying. Beyond the human toll, a pandemic influenza outbreak would create significant social disruption and have a crippling economic impact on communities. Absenteeism and illness, plus fear of contagion, could threaten the functioning of critical services related to the economy, security and basic functioning of society.

The impact of a pandemic flu outbreak on corrections will be no less severe. Due to the security measures necessary for inmate populations, the anticipated staff absenteeism, diagnosis, triage, treatment and security of inmates all present a daunting challenge for a reduced staff. Therefore, it is imperative to develop a pandemic flu plan that would be responsive and effective for corrections.

Process Strategies

Pandemic flu would affect many geographic areas simultaneously. Most continuity-of-operations disaster plans for corrections rely heavily on the shifting of resources (i.e., equipment and personnel) to affected facilities from unaffected facilities. It is clear that pandemic flu response would require a different type of planning, one necessitating responses beyond the internal shifting of resources and one depending on interaction with external partners such as health departments. Correctional administrators must plan in order to find ways of obtaining needed supplies (e.g., food and medication) and distributing them in a timely manner. In Oklahoma, administrators began planning by making local health authorities/agencies aware of the special needs of the agency. The plan began with the efforts of the DOC's chief medical officer, who put the DOC on the local health and disaster response agencies' radar screen.

In 2005, the chief medical officer introduced the DOC to several city and state disaster preparedness agencies in an effort to create an awareness of the needs of this special population of patients. He attended health department meetings...

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