The H1N1 flu virus is making a comeback. The first place it hit was schools. The Rockwood School District reported suspected cases, as did Alton, IL schools and then Saint Louis University. Some colleges in other parts of the country are seeing hundreds and even thousands of sick students. So far the outbreaks and the severity of the virus haven't been as bad as feared, but that's not stopping local emergency planners from getting ready for the worst case scenario.
Nick Gragnani is the executive director of the St. Louis Area Regional Response System and the guy who is paid to worry about the worst case scenario. As an emergency planner, he's spent countless hours planning and coordinating with local hospitals, health departments and the Center for Disease Control to be ready for a local H1N1 flu pandemic. He told me that planning for a big flu outbreak is very similar to planning for a large earthquake, a major storm or a terrorist attack. Each requires stockpiling certain supplies ahead of time and coordinating medical care to large numbers of people.
Keeping healthcare providers healthy is a top priority, that's why the St. Louis Fire Department has requested 900 H1N1 flu vaccinations, when it finally becomes available. Other first responders and healthcare workers would also be at the front of the line when the flu vaccine is ready. The real question mark in the flu emergency planning is whether a local H1N1 flu pandemic will hit before the vaccine is available. The first 40 million doses should be available October 15th, but the vaccine may require a second dose three weeks after the first and then another two weeks for the body to build up full immunity. Either way, there's an ample supply of anti-virul drugs, like Tamiflu to treat sick people and the severity of the H1N1 flu has been moderate. If the virus mutates and turns more severe or there's an explosion of new cases, emergency planners like Nick Gragnani will be ready and waiting.