N.Va. Counties Use Flu Pandemic Funds

By Stephanie McCrummen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 13, 2006

In November, as the federal government unveiled a 396-page plan for dealing with a possible flu pandemic, President Bush requested $644 million to help local governments prepare.

The initial installments of that federal money reached the states this spring. Last month, as the funds began to trickle down to the county level, Northern Virginia municipalities received their first federal grants for preparing for an outbreak.

So far, Virginia has received $2.2 million from the federal government, most of which the state health department divvied up among 35 health districts, based on population. A portion has gone to the state lab to enhance its ability to identify influenza strains rapidly.

Loudoun County received $48,000 in grant money, Prince William County $66,000 and Fairfax County $125,000.

"We expect the localities to have developed the plans for their districts," said Lisa Kaplowitz, deputy commissioner for emergency preparedness and response for the state health department. "The goal is for them to have local pandemic flu plans."

A flu pandemic occurs when a viral strain emerges that has the ability to be transmitted easily from person to person and is so different from previous strains that just about everyone is susceptible to it.

Flu pandemics broke out three times in the 20th century, in 1918, 1957 and 1968. Over an extended period of time, a pandemic is inevitable, but the interval in between pandemics can be long enough that entire generations escape the menace.

The prospect of a pandemic had been largely theoretical for years, until the H5N1 virus, commonly known as avian flu, began spreading last year across Asia and into Europe. Since late December 2003, there have been 122 human cases of avian flu, 62 of them fatal.

"If we actually have a pandemic, this is a very big deal," said Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association. "It will have huge implications in terms of health and safety and the economy, and we've still got a ways to go" to prepare for it.

The first round of grants must be spent by August and is quickly translating into tens of thousands of educational pamphlets and mailings, DVDs and PowerPoint presentations, and lots of community meetings in school auditoriums.

In Loudoun, for instance, the money is being used to sponsor seminars on the subject and an Aug. 10 meeting for the public to discuss the potential impact of a flu pandemic and steps people can take to protect themselves, said David Goodfriend, director of the county health department.

Fairfax is holding gatherings with business leaders and spending money on "outreach materials," including a self-care guide, said Kimberly Cordero, a health department spokeswoman.

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