Health And Business Leaders Meet To Prepare For A Pandemic

WAIKIKI (KHNL): Hawaii is taking a very aggressive approach in preparing for a possible bird flu outbreak or influenza pandemic.

Obviously no one knows when or if a pandemic will happen or how bad it would be. More than 200 health and emergency officials met with business and community leaders in Waikiki this week to talk about preparing for the worst.

If a pandemic flu hits Hawaii, the impact could be devastating. It's estimated 5,000 Hawaii residents would end up in the hospital and a 1,000 could die.

"There's going to be at least 30% reduction in the work force. If you're talking in terms of economics, especially here in Hawaii. On top of that our economy here is tourism based, do you think people are going to travel as much during a pandemic," says Dr. Sarah Park from the State Department of Health.

An outbreak can reach our islands in a matter of days because our state is one of the most visited places in the world. Last year, nearly 7.5 million people from all around the world visited Hawaii.

"In the last 10 years, you can name a bunch of emerging infectious diseases, that had a great economic impact on our society," says Dr. Park.

The Centers for Disease Control estimates the economic losses in the U.S. could reach as high as $166 billion. At this point, there is no way of predicting a pandemic.

"Any bird flu has the potential to become a pandemic virus. They just need to pick up a few mutations and then we got a new flu virus," says Dr. Park.

That's why it's importance for everyone to practice good hygiene always. the tips for avoiding getting sick are the same for helping stop the spread of a virulent flu. Wash your hands frequently, get your flu shot, cough and sneeze in the nook of your elbow, and keep an adequate supply of your medications.

"Its frustrating for us cause obviously if you keep warning people at some point, it's the boy who cried wolf. We don't that to happen."

Health officials want you to think hurricane preparedness. You should have a family plan, keep a list of all medications and have enough food and water to last you two weeks. They're going to have a follow up meeting on pandemic outbreaks like the bird flu this fall.