UNK Hosts Public Town Hall Meeting On Pandemic Influenza Awareness

John Lakey
vice chancellor for Business & Finance, (w) 308.865.8205

The 1918 influenza pandemic killed approximately 600,000 people in the U.S. and 40 million worldwide. In Central Nebraska, Ravenna and Gibbon were particularly hard hit with many deaths. Schools opened and closed as waves of the influenza occurred. Quarantine signs were posted outside of towns.

Area schools, communities and individuals are making preparations in case there would be a new influenza pandemic. As part of that preparation, the University of Nebraska at Kearney will host a town hall meeting on Wednesday, Nov. 7, with registration starting at 5:15 p.m. The program will begin at 5:30 p.m. in Ponderosa Rooms A and B of the Nebraskan Student Union.

In cooperation with the Two Rivers Public Health Department, the event will detail how individuals and groups can prepare for possible infections, and answer questions about what UNK, the City of Kearney and others are doing to prepare.

The event will also premier an educational DVD made by UNK and Two Rivers that describes how an influenza pandemic might occur and what the prevention methods are. The DVD will be available through Two Rivers Public Health Department for educational activities. It will also be available on the UNK campus for use in classrooms and for employee education. Copies of the DVD may also be available for other presentations.  

Nebraska Lt. Governor Rick Sheehy will speak at the town hall, as will Dr. Joann Shaefer, chief medical officer for the State of Nebraska.

Pandemic Influenza

Influenza, often incorrectly called the flu, is a respiratory disease caused by a virus. In the United States, influenza is an annual event that usually begins in December and subsides in March. This type of influenza is called seasonal influenza. Rarely, a new type of influenza virus may appear that people have not been exposed to before, so they have no natural resistance to it. When influenza virus becomes capable of sustained human – to – human transmission, pandemic influenza could occur. This type of virus will cause an influenza more serious in terms of the severity of the illness, and number of deaths, than regular seasonal influenza.

In 1997, experts discovered an influenza virus in Hong Kong that was affecting wild birds which resulted in the killing of 1.5 million birds in three days to try and stop the spread. This virus, known as bird flu or avian influenza, has spread to many regions of the world including Africa and Asia. In these countries, wild and domestic birds have transmitted the avian influenza virus to humans causing serious illness and often death.

Although there has been no sustained human-to-human transmission, there has been growing concern that an influenza pandemic could occur. Whether or not an influenza pandemic actually occurs, you can prepare by knowing the facts about influenza and how to respond to it.

The symptoms of the bird flu, which are similar to those of the seasonal influenza, are:
• Cough;
• Sore throat;
• Fever and chills;
• Body ache;
• Runny or stuffy nose;
• Headache;
• Extreme tiredness;
• Even diarrhea.

Contact your health care provider if you have any questions about your specific symptoms.

You can make good hygiene a habit and take other actions to prevent the spread of germs, including:

• Frequently washing your hands with soap and water, or cleaning them with an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
• Covering your mouth with your sleeve when you cough or sneeze,
• Staying home if you are sick, getting plenty of rest and drinking a lot of fluids.
• Avoiding close contact with people who are sick.
• Keeping your living and work areas clean.

During an influenza pandemic, public health officials may recommend community-level restrictions to prevent the influenza virus from spreading. You may be asked to stay home for an extended period of time if others in your household are ill even though you are not sick. Schools, places of worship and large public gatherings such as sporting events may be closed or cancelled temporarily. Mass transportation and air travel may also be restricted.  

You can prepare for a pandemic now. These actions may lessen the impact of a pandemic on you and your family:

• Store extra supplies of water and food.
• Ask your doctor and insurance company if you can get an extra supply of your regular prescription drugs.
• Store a supply of non-prescription drugs such as pain relievers, cough and cold medicines, stomach remedies, fluids with electrolytes and vitamins.
• Store health supplies such as bleach, tissues, a thermometer, disposable gloves, soap and alcohol-based hand cleaners.
• Talk with family members and loved ones about how they would be cared for if they got sick.

For more information about pandemic influenza, visit www.redcross.orgwww.pandemicflu.gov or  www.hhs.state.ne.us,