While I confess that there were a few times this past week I wished I were somewhere cooler, every summer I feel so fortunate to live in a place as beautiful as Oregon, with its spectacular bright blue summer skies and incredible scenery. This summer, though, there are some dark clouds on the horizon for me, with the possibility of an influenza pandemic this fall. The new strain of flu that appeared last spring has not taken a "summer vacation," and we have continued to see illness and deaths from flu around the state.
Mel Kohn, M.D., M.P.H., acting assistant DHS director for the Public Health Division.
While flu is notoriously difficult to predict, the likelihood of a full-blown flu pandemic this fall is very real. We need to be preparing now for that possibility. What does this mean for you both at work and at home?
At DHS we need to ensure that we can continue operating and providing services to our clients and the public if we have many staff members out ill or caring for ill loved ones. The Centers for Disease Control estimates that if the United States has a serious outbreak of H1N1, we could be facing employee absentee rates as high as 40 percent. For any organization that is a substantial challenge.
DHS Deputy Director Clyde Saiki has been leading representatives from all of the divisions to ensure business continuity in the face of a pandemic, and to make sure we can get accurate information out to clients, employees, service providers and the public as quickly as possible. In the coming weeks you will be hearing more from your division leadership about those plans. Please make sure that you know your role in those plans.
To help prepare other organizations, Governor Kulongoski and the Public Health Division are holding a Summit on Influenza Preparedness Friday August 21. Representatives from school districts, private businesses, labor unions, health care systems, tribes, local governments and state agencies are particularly encouraged to attend. To learn more go to www.flu.oregon.gov.
As individuals we also need to prepare. You've heard me say a lot that the best way to protect yourself is to wash your hands and cover your cough. That remains true. But there are other ways you can protect yourself and those around you:
- Stop smoking. People who smoke are more susceptible to catching flu and developing complications like pneumonia. We have many resources to help you quit and there has never been a better time.
- Improve your physical well-being. Obesity is starting to emerge as a factor in the more severe cases of H1N1 that have required hospitalization. State employees have lost more than 60,000 pounds this past year with the help of Weight Watchers, now available as a benefit through PEBB. They are eating better and being more physically active. By doing so they have improved their chances of staying healthy this fall when the flu season hits. To learn more click here: www.oregon.gov/DAS/PEBB/WeightWatchers.shtml
- To help keep the people around you healthy, if you have the flu stay home. When we are facing such high potential absentee rates we have to be responsible to each other and not come to the office when we are sick.
There are many unknowns about how flu will play out here this fall, and our recommendations and activities will change accordingly. The most up-to-date information should be available at www.flu.oregon.gov, and will also be the subject of future Director's Messages. Thank you in advance for your help in our efforts to reduce the toll that flu will bring to our communities.