State Health Commissioner Novello Speaks At State Senate Legislative Hearing On Long Island

Dr. Novello Says Pandemic Flu Plan Serves as Blueprint to Build Strong Response to a Flu Pandemic with State Agencies, Counties and Health Care Providers

ALBANY, March 10, 2006 – State Health Commissioner Antonia C. Novello, M.D., M.P.H., Dr.P.H., today presented details on the State Health Department's comprehensive Influenza Pandemic Plan at a State Legislative Hearing in Mineola, New York (see Dr. Novello's remarks below). The hearing on the State's preparation for a potential pandemic was held by the New York State Senate Committee on Health and the Committee on Veterans, Homeland Security and Military Affairs.

Many facets of the State Health Department's plan are already in place as part of the State's overall emergency preparedness efforts to protect the health of all New Yorkers. New York's plan parallels the recently announced national strategy for pandemic influenza released by the 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 capacities.

Dr. Novello said, "The Department has developed a strong and evolving plan designed to protect the public's health to the greatest degree possible. As new scientific and medical information develops, as local plans are completed, and additional resources become available, the state and nation's overall capabilities to respond to a pandemic influenza will grow even stronger."

At present, the World Health Organization and federal health officials are closely watching the H5N1 highly pathogenic avian influenza 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.

The Department's plan includes a strong public education and communication component which will help provide the public with timely and accurate information in the event of a pandemic.

These measures include:

  • Recommendations for respiratory hygiene -- including frequent hand-washing, covering your mouth when coughing or sneezing, not shaking hands or sharing drinking cups or silverware; and cleaning contact surfaces like phones and desktops; and
  • Urging children and adults with symptoms of illness to stay home from school or work.

During a pandemic, The Department will add the following measures:

  • Urge the public to avoid crowds;
  • Notify the public about possible closings of schools and businesses;
  • Make the public aware of travel advisories that may be necessary to restrict travel and prevent further transmission; and
  • Advise the public to stockpile at least two weeks' supply of non-perishable food, water, and essential household items, so that they can avoid having to visit public places during the pandemic.

For more information about pandemic influenza, go to www.health.ny.gov or www.pandemicflu.gov.

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