Fairfax Issues Pandemic Flu Response Plan

By Lisa Rein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, September 16, 2006

A severe outbreak of bird flu would infect nearly a third of Fairfax County's population, killing almost 700 people and sending thousands to local hospitals, according to a new report.

The 112-page primer on how the Washington area's largest local government would respond to a pandemic that many researchers think is inevitable depicts a grim scene of sick or at-risk people in widespread isolation or quarantine, at home or in hospital beds.

As much as 40 percent of the county's workforce would be out of commission. And hospitals, nursing homes and other makeshift medical centers would have to set up temporary morgues and stockpile body bags to handle the deaths.

"Life as you see it today will not be the same," Fairfax health director Gloria Addo-Ayensu said yesterday. "We will all have to make sacrifices."

Fairfax, which has posted its response plan on the county Web site, is the region's first local government to issue a comprehensive report on pandemic flu preparations, said Addo-Ayensu and other emergency management officials.

Although the Bush administration has released a federal plan and committed tens of millions of dollars to anticipate a crisis, the details of how to respond are left to state and local governments.

Public health experts fear that avian influenza, which is spreading worldwide in poultry and has infected more than 230 people, could mutate into a virulent, pandemic strain that could spread widely from person to person, killing millions around the world.

There is no bird flu vaccine, and public health officials predict a shortage of antiviral drugs.

Fairfax, like most local governments, has planned emergency exercises; held meetings with doctors, businesses, school and religious leaders; and prepared public service announcements and publications to give residents information about a possible pandemic.

Now the county is giving its government officials, infectious disease specialists, emergency planners and first responders explicit instructions on what to do if people get sick.

"We have to look at the scenarios that are the worst-case," said C. Douglas Bass, the county's emergency management director, "and look at how we would deal with them."

Bass said the county took the unusual step of putting the response plan on its Web site "to assure the public that we are being vigilant, that we've gone through this process, and to provide a forum if they have questions."

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2006 The Washington Post Company