If the worst happens there will be one hospital bed for every 10 sick people and buses will be used to transport the dead to temporary morgues.
"You always plan for the worst-case scenario and hope you never execute it," said Crow Wing County Commissioner Terry Sluss.
Crow Wing County commissioners on Tuesday set up a task force aimed at considering the worst and planning a response should the bird flu pandemic move from anticipated global disaster to fact. The bird flu is expected to be similar to the 1918 Spanish influenza pandemic that killed 20 million to 40 million people worldwide and between 500,000 and 675,000 in the United States.
Those who died were often young and strong adults. Public gatherings were banned. Schools were closed. Movie theaters closed. Entire towns closed. Black wreathes were hung on doors of homes to indicate a family member died.
Influenza is not a stomach flu. Symptoms include a rapid onset of fever, chills, body aches, sore throat, non-productive cough, runny nose and headache.
The incubation period for an infected person is one to five days and people are most infectious 24 hours before they have symptoms.
A five-month warning period is expected between the identification of a new strain and a pandemic event where it spreads worldwide.
A pandemic is expected to cause 750,000 Minnesotans to seek medical care, 165,000 may be hospitalized and 30,000 are expected to die.
A Brainerd resident, the late Zane Smith, who was a young boy in the fall of 1918, remembered that time during a 1999 Dispatch interview.
"I remember walking up and down the street and seeing a wreath on just about every third or fourth door," Smith said. "That was really a difficult time."
If the bird flu mutates into one that passes readily from human to human in the general population, those days will be repeated.
Why is a new strain so serious? Because people have no immunity and, at this time, there is no vaccine. A mutated bird flu is expected to spread quickly. The numbers of sick will overwhelm heath services, which will have their own ranks likely depleted by illness. The virus will affect all age groups. It will spread rapidly. When a vaccine is developed, with the current technology there will not be an ability to make enough fast enough to cover the population.
"There will be a pandemic at some point," said Joyce Mueller, Crow Wing County public health nurse director.
One of the ways people will be able to protect themselves is by staying home and avoiding contact with others. Crow Wing County Health advises people have a week's supply of food, water and medicine on hand.
Unlike other examples of nature's wrath with Hurricane Katrina, help from other parts of the country is not expected. Everyone will have their own influenza victims to take care of.
Commissioner Ed Larsen said the county will not be able to depend on the state or federal government.
"If we have an epidemic it's going to be nationwide. And, to make a long story short, we are going to be on our own," Larsen said.
Duties are expected to include finding more beds for the sick and setting up temporary morgues. Other tasks include identifying essential services. Commissioner Dewey Tautges suggested planning ahead regarding communication to residents, perhaps sending a mailer to all households. Plans may be as detailed as providing alcohol-based hand sanitizers for employees and considering how to handle shared work stations, or allowing more telecommuting.
A Crow Wing County tabletop exercise regarding the pandemic is planned for March. The county's task force is expected to look at a dual track of county issues and community issues. A pandemic planning list for large businesses is online at www.pandemicflu.gov and www.cdc.gov/business.
RENEE RICHARDSON can be reached at email@example.com or 855-5852.
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