McDuffie County held a pandemic influenza drill Saturday to practice for the event of the real thing. The drill took place at Thomson High School with local volunteers serving as both caregivers and patients. During the two-hour drill, 845 patients were successfully screened and 718 were treated, figures which doubled the planning goals.
"So now I know at least I could do it with the amount of staff and volunteers that I have. I can do it in two shifts," said Virginia Bradshaw, the director of McDuffie County Board of Health. "I know now that the county can handle a 24-hour drill."
Drill participants filled out a form giving personal information and medical history, watched an educational video and then were given a pill bottle with instructions. At-risk patients, such as those with kidney disease, were sent to a separate treatment area, and those who already had flu symptoms were sent to a diagnosis area. The volunteers were assigned to be a certain type of patient in order to cover every possible scenario.
According to information from the United States Department of Health and Human Services, pandemic influenza is an extreme, acute outbreak of flu that is very different from the typical annual flu outbreak. Pandemics occur when there is a major change in a flu virus, resulting in a new strain that leaves individuals susceptible to infection because they have never been exposed to it.
"If we have any acute outbreak, the pandemic flu would be a likely scenario because we haven't had one in a very long time," said Mrs. Bradshaw. "We are past due."
Unlike the gradual changes that occur in the annual flu viruses, a pandemic flu virus represents a major, sudden shift in the structure of the virus that increases its ability to spread quickly. According to the U.S. Dept. of Health, past pandemic influenza viruses have spread worldwide within months. The most recent occurred in 1968 with the Hong Kong Flu outbreak, which resulted in 34,000 deaths in the U.S.
In the event of a real outbreak, Larry Walker, the district information officer for the Medical Response Corps, said it would take 72 hours to immunize the entire population of McDuffie County.
"This drill primarily consisted of Thomson residents, which is remarkable," said Mr. Walker. "I think this is the first in the state where the citizens themselves did all the participation, and we didn't have to bring in extra help."
Mr. Walker said people would have to receive immunization one to four days after their exposure to the virus. Exposure can happen from person-to-person contact as well as contact with contaminated surfaces. Symptoms would be the same as seasonal flu symptoms.