Past and future pandemics
Influenza has been with us for centuries. It causes severe illness and death every winter in North America, usually attacking the elderly and the debilitated with particular ferocity. Every winter, outbreaks of influenza in hospitals and long-term care homes require public health resources to control the spread and minimize the impact of influenza.
Outbreaks of influenza have been known to occur for centuries, and three influenza pandemics occurred in the previous century alone – the Spanish (1918), Asian (1957) and Hong Kong (1968) pandemics. The Spanish pandemic, in two short years, killed an estimated 20 million people world-wide with some experts reporting deaths as high as 40 million. Entire towns were devastated and many families were wiped out as a result of influenza. Physicians tending to soldiers in military camps wrote letters home about young healthy men who came to the infirmary with a cough in the morning and were dead by nightfall. This virus quickly made its way around the globe.
Experts predict that further pandemic influenza will occur although the timing and pattern is unpredictable. When it does, the impact may be devastating. Estimates suggest up to 8 million people in Ontario will be infected. Of the people infected, up to 4 million may be clinically ill and 12,000 may die – an emergency of catastrophic proportions!
In terms of preparing for the impact of a pandemic in the work environment, it has been projected that up to 30 – 35% of the workforce may be absent due to the effects of this virus on individuals and families. This clearly identifies the importance for agencies and businesses to prepare plans to ensure continuity of essential services.
Based on information taken from previous pandemics, the impact of a pandemic influenza in Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph each week for 9 weeks could be:
- 7,300 people infected
- 3,800 will contract mild illness, may not seek formal care
- 3,400 will seek health care assessments
- 75 will be hospitalized. Currently there are 43 hospitalizations for flu in a year (2003)
- 30 will die. Currently there are two deaths in a year.
Work has occurred at the federal level that has resulted in the development of a contingency plan, which reflects the role of the federal government in a pandemic influenza response. Similarly, at the provincial level, the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care has undertaken a planning process in collaboration with various stakeholders for an Ontario response to a pandemic influenza.
Given the federal and provincial forecasts, municipalities across Ontario need to prepare for such an event. Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health and the City of Guelph, together with specific stakeholders, have been actively preparing for this event for years so that Guelph will be positioned to meet the challenges of a pandemic influenza, whenever it occurs.
The next step in this process is the development of Business Continuity plans to maintain essential services and/or functions during a pandemic emergency. For both government and business, there is an expectation from the public and from employees, that services will continue as usual and uninterrupted. In this context, the experiences and disruptions created by the 2003 Power Outage and the SARS outbreak emphasize the benefits of the emergency planning process.
Your agency/organization could be faced with extremely high absenteeism rates during a pandemic influenza. For this reason, your organization should be planning ahead to ensure you have the capacity to maintain service delivery during that time.
Response plans are necessary to ensure business continuity is maintained during a pandemic. To help with this, the “TOOL KIT” for Business Continuity has been prepared to make the planning process easy and to provide a consistent approach for all those involved.
This kit will lead you through the process of identifying:
- Your essential services
- Required staffing needs to keep essential services running
- Staff skill sets in your organization
- Opportunities for reallocation of staff to fill positions vacant due to absenteeism during a pandemic emergency
The “TOOL KIT” provides you with all the resources you will require to develop your organization’s Business Continuity Plan.