State Health Commissioner Novello Unveils State Health Department's Pandemic Influenza Plan

Comprehensive, Wide Ranging Initiative Prepares State for Potential Health Emergencies

ALBANY, February 23, 2006 - State Health Commissioner Antonia C. Novello, M.D., M.P.H., Dr.P.H., today unveiled the State Health Department's comprehensive Pandemic Influenza Plan -- a wide-ranging initiative to help protect New Yorkers in the event of a worldwide epidemic of influenza. Many facets of the plan are already in place as part of the State's efforts to protect the health of all New Yorkers.

New York's plan parallels the recently announced national strategy for pandemic influenza released by U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The State's plan addresses New York's unique characteristics such as demographics; population density; and international borders; as well as public health and health care systems capacity.

State Health Commissioner Antonia C. Novello, M.D., M.P.H., Dr.P.H., said, "Experts believe pandemic influenza could circle the globe in as little as four days, potentially causing millions to become ill, seriously straining health care systems and affecting the ability of government and the private sector to provide essential services. To prepare, health officials at every level are taking measures to respond vigorously on all fronts. I applaud Governor Pataki's leadership in this crucial effort and his continued willingness to invest in the health of New Yorkers."

At present, the World Health Organization and federal health officials are closely watching the H5N1 highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) virus that is prevalent throughout Asia and parts of Europe. Even though it primarily affects birds, there is significant concern that the virus could change to a type that spreads more easily from person to person, producing a pandemic. Health experts also acknowledge that there is no way to determine with certainty if H5NI is the strain of flu that will cause the next pandemic.

Potential Magnitude of a Pandemic and the Role of the Public in Response

Health and government experts acknowledge that a pandemic producing widespread serious illness could significantly impact all sectors of society. The health care system would be overburdened; businesses could experience a dramatic reduction in their workforce as employees become ill, remain home to care for sick family members, or are absent due to child care issues if schools close in response to a pandemic.

In the event of a pandemic, people would be urged to help reduce influenza transmission by being diligent about hygiene (washing hands frequently, covering their cough, disinfecting telephones, desktops and other surfaces that people frequently touch). It would also be crucial for individuals with flu-like symptoms to refrain from going to work, school or anywhere else they might spread germs. New Yorkers would be advised to stockpile a supply of non-perishable food, water, medications and essential household items to avoid having to go out in public if social distancing is recommended.

It is important to note that the Health Department's plan reflects the currently available scientific knowledge and data regarding the potential for an influenza pandemic, the expected ramifications on New Yorkers, and the most effective strategies and tactics to support a response. It will continually evolve as the pandemic threat unfolds, and as the State and its partners enhance their preparedness. Pandemic planning is continuing in conjunction with other State and local agencies, the health care system and the private sector.

Summary of New York State's Pandemic Flu Plan

The plan focuses on New York's public health and health care systems capabilities to respond to an influenza pandemic. It describes a wide range of response measures, including:

  • Infection control procedures in health care facilities and in the workplace;
  • How we would conduct disease surveillance and manage data;
  • How we would prioritize vaccine supplies and antiviral medications and treat patients with pandemic influenza;
  • How we would respond to the spread of pandemic influenza by travelers;
  • Things we might do in community settings to reduce disease transmission, such as close schools or limit public gatherings; and
  • How we would communicate vitally important information to the public as a pandemic unfolds.

Earlier this year, the State Health Department briefed the New York State Disaster Preparedness Commission on the status of New York's pandemic planning and made recommendations for State agencies to identify critical infrastructure personnel, ensure continuity of operations and provide essential services during a pandemic. Similar briefings were conducted earlier this month for local health departments, the health care community, the business sector and other key partners.

To view the plan, or for more information about pandemic influenza, go to www.health.ny.gov or www.pandemicflu.gov.

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