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Pandemic influenza planning tools

Media Release

20 October 2005

Pandemic influenza planning tools

No one knows how many people might get sick or die in the next influenza pandemic, but it is important to plan for the possibility that it will have a significant impact in New Zealand, Director of Public Health Dr Mark Jacobs said today.

The Ministry of Health has developed a range of different scenarios for planning purposes and has shared them with government agencies and health sector groups to help them focus on issues they may need to deal with in a pandemic. These scenarios and planning assumptions have been included in a comprehensive pandemic planning kit prepared by the Ministry of Economic Development (MED), to help critical infrastructure providers plan for a pandemic and the continuity of essential services such as power and clean water. The Ministries of Health and Transport have also contributed to the kit.

Dr Jacobs said the Ministry of Health has deliberately planned for a wide range of pandemic possibilities, because no one knows the timing or size of the next pandemic and ``we need to be prepared for whatever comes our way''.

``It's important to emphasise that the scenario material prepared by the Ministry is not a projection or prediction of what might happen; the material is a planning tool that will help government agencies and other groups focus on what they may need to do in the event of a pandemic.

``In recent months, the possibility of the avian influenza virus H5N1 mutating into a new virulent strain that could cause a worldwide disease outbreak has, not unsurprisingly, generated intense media and public interest internationally and in New Zealand. Many New Zealanders will now be aware of this issue and will hopefully be thinking about how they can prepare themselves and their families.''

Personal hygiene measures that all New Zealanders can take will form a crucial part of helping to reduce the risk of influenza infection. At a community level, there are simple, practical measures families and individuals can take to help themselves, in the event of a pandemic.

These are:

regular handwashing using soap, remembering to dry hands thoroughly afterwards
covering your cough or sneeze with a tissue and safely disposing of the used tissue in a bin
avoiding contact with others if you are sick, and staying home from work to reduce the risk of passing on the infection
making sure you have enough food and water in the house to keep going if you become sick and can't get out to the shops. Plan for about a week's worth of supplies
having a supply of paracetamol in the house to reduce fevers in people who are sick.

New Zealand has been planning for a potential outbreak of pandemic influenza for some years, and this country was one of the first in the world to develop a pandemic preparedness plan.

This plan is continually being updated, in line with World Health Organization recommendations and the Ministry of Health is working with agencies across government to strengthen national preparedness.

``The Ministry has this year been adding more and more details to the plan, so we can look at what sorts of responses are necessary across different sectors,'' Dr Jacobs said.

The Ministry of Health is leading the whole of government planning for a potential influenza pandemic outbreak.

Government agencies leading various intersectoral workgroups are: NZ Customs Service, Treasury, Department of Labour, Ministry of Education, Ministry of Civil Defence and Emergency Management, NZ Police, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Ministry of Economic Development, Ministry of Social Development, the Department of Prime Minister & Cabinet, and Crown Law.

The Government has also committed $26 million to buy 835,000 Tamiflu treatment courses. Tamiflu (oseltamivir) is an antiviral treatment that can be used within 48 hours of influenza symptoms appearing. By world standards, this is a significant investment.

Some 670,000 of the Tamiflu treatment courses have arrived in the country. By the end of next month, New Zealand will have more than 850,000 courses -- enough anti-virals to treat 21 percent of the population, as planned.

``Details of the use of Tamiflu will be confirmed once we know the exact nature of the pandemic. At this stage, we can say it is likely that Tamiflu will largely be used for treating people who are sick,'' Dr Jacobs said.

``It may also be used to `ringfence' an outbreak in its very early stages. However, the policy is not yet finalised and Tamiflu will be only part of New Zealand's overall response to a pandemic.''

The plan has five broad components: planning for the pandemic -- the current phase; keeping it out -- border management; stamping it out -- cluster control operations; managing it -- full pandemic measures and recovering from it -- putting in place measures to return services to normal.

ENDS

For other information see www.moh.govt.nz/pandemicinfluenza

To view the kit see http://www.med.govt.nz/irdev/econ_dev/pandemic-planning/

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