Cover Story - Pandemic Readiness

You'll notice it soon on TV and in your local newspaper - a new public relations push to spread the news about a pandemic threat!

The catch phrase is "it's not a matter of it; it's a matter of when."

The world is overdue for a devastating round of the flu. Where it will come from and in what form remain big question marks!

But are you ready for the pandemic flu?

A song is getting it's share of chuckles, but health experts warn the pandemic flu is nothing to laugh at.

The big part of the problem is flying low on local radar! People just aren't paying attention!

A flu pandemic that could infect millions is not out of the question.

In the 20th century, three flu pandemics in 1918, 1957 and 1968 killed hundreds of thousands in the U.S. and millions worldwide.

In Huntington, some folks have been lining up for their annual flu shot.

It's the first batch of the year, and while these shots won't help in a pandemic, they put in perspective the scope of the threat.

Keep in mind, based on national estimates, the flu results in at least 1,500 hospitalizations and more than 200 deaths a year in West Virginia.

That adds up to between $6 and $18 million in direct costs for healthcare.

West Virginia is one of the oldest states in the nation and has a high percentage of people with chronic disease, making the burden of flu disproportionate in the state.

In eastern Kentucky, local health departments are also planning seminars to educate people.

Health care workers seem like the obvious targets, but the focus is much more than that.

It's trying to get small businesses educated so when the time comes, no one panics.

Kristy Bolen with the Ashland-Boyd County Health Department said, "While a pandemic is a public health concern, it's also a concern for businesses because we could see upwards of 40% of employees not showing up for work, or their either sick, taking care of someone who's sick, or they're just afraid to come out."

Some of the numbers being thrown around at local seminars are disturbing.

In West Virginia, for example, it's estimated more than 1/2 million people would be out of commission to deal with a pandemic.

If you compare that to 1918, it would have been more than 60 thousand hospitalized and more than 11 thousand deaths.

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