While the hysteria associated with the swine flu epidemic seems to have temporarily subsided, confirmed cases of the new novel H1N1 virus continue to be reported.
On Wednesday, May 20, the Indiana State Department of Health reported a total of 105 cases, up from 70 cases one week before.
In light of the continued spread of the virus, and the continued absence of a vaccine, Indiana State Health Commissioner Judy Monroe, M.D., is encouraging counties to host town hall meetings this summer to help residents prepare for the possibility of an influenza (flu) pandemic this coming fall, when many expect the number of H1N1 cases to increase exponentially as part of the "regular" cold and flu season.
"Given the current heightened awareness about influenza and the uncertainty about what we can expect from the flu season this fall, it is an ideal time to get the public engaged in pandemic influenza planning," Monroe said. "To be a prepared society, every one of us needs to actively participate."
According to the Indiana Department of Health, the state has been engaged in pandemic influenza preparedness planning since March 23, 2006, when the Indiana State Department of Health and the Indiana Department of Homeland Security co-hosted "Indiana Prepares: Pandemic Influenza State Summit" at Purdue University and in follow-up pandemic influenza summits held by individual health departments throughout the state. By 2007, most of Indiana's 94 local health departments were ready.
Monroe is asking these local agencies and counties to once again become involved in pandemic influenza planning by hosting local town hall meetings so Indiana communities can review and update their pandemic influenza plans. She says local health departments would most likely take the lead in hosting these events, but the goal would be for representatives from public safety and emergency management, business, schools, hospitals, the faith community and the public attend the town hall meetings to revisit those plans.
"The key to effective public health practice is to have continuous quality improvement," Monroe said. "I am proud of how Indiana responded to the current H1N1 flu outbreak and applaud the outstanding work of our local, state and federal partners. However, we also have an incredible teachable moment as a result of the current outbreak. If we don't seize this moment, we will lose an opportunity to improve upon what I think are good plans."
Joe Wainscott, executive director of the Indiana Department of Homeland Security, said, "Thankfully, the effects of the H1N1 virus have not been as severe as they could have been. We need to continue planning for all types of emergencies - including potential return of the virus in the fall and spring and summer severe weather. A preparedness plan is important for all types of emergencies. "
The first case of H1N1 was confirmed in Indiana on April 28, 2009. Only four of the 96 confirmed cases have required hospitalization and no deaths related to the virus have been reported in Indiana.
Half of the state's swine flu cases are in Marion County (53) and the majority of those diagnosed are between the ages of 5-25 (70). Seventeen children under the age of 5 have contracted the virus, and there are no reports of individuals over 65 with the virus.
For more information on pandemic influenza, visit the Indiana State Department of Health's Web site at www.statehealth.in.gov and click on "Pandemic Influenza Home." For more information about how to prepare for a pandemic or other emergency, go to www.in.gov/dhs.