Contact: Jim Gangl, 218-725-5222,
Jim Skoog, 218-725-5240,
St. Louis County Public Health & Human Services
(Second in a series of six weekly stories)
Pandemic Influenza Can Occur in Northeastern Minnesota
How Northeastern Minnesota Organizations
Have Been Preparing for Emergency Situations
“Pandemic Flu, like the Hong Kong flu outbreak in the 1960s, is not a thing of the past,” says Guy Peterson, Public Health Manager for St. Louis County’s Public Health and Human Services Department. Over the last 100 years, there have been three influenza pandemics. The “Spanish Flu” in 1918-1919 killed about 6 million people throughout the world. National and world health officials are concerned that the current avian influenza strain (H5N1) or “bird flu” could evolve into a pandemic. To become a pandemic, the disease must be worldwide, highly infectious and transmitted through human to human contact.
Currently, the bird flu is mostly spread between birds and is rarely transmitted from bird to person. It has only been transmitted to humans in situations where there is close contact between infected birds and humans. So, why should we worry about the bird flu? Influenza viruses are always evolving and the bird flu virus could change enough to cause the disease to spread from human to human. If this happens, the virus could become a pandemic very quickly because there would be no natural immunity in the human population. “A pandemic flu happens without warning and spreads very fast. In a pandemic flu, about one-fourth of the world’s population may become sick. Of those who become sick, about 2% may die,” adds Peterson. When a pandemic occurs there probably won’t be a vaccine or a medical cure.
When a pandemic flu occurs, hospitals will be at full capacity quickly. Most families will have to care for sick family members at home. In fact, there may be so many people who are sick or caring for sick family members that the work force will shrink dramatically and employers won’t have enough employees to get their normal work done.
“Individuals need to take their own protective measures,” says Peterson. Your “first line of defense” is to wash hands often, use hand sanitizers, cough into your sleeve, avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth, and stay home when ill. Getting your annual flu shot is recommended as well. This will not protect against a pandemic strain of flu, but may reduce the severity of illness from seasonal influenza. Public Health officials are also recommending having an emergency kit in your home, with a stockpile of non-perishable food that will last for up to two weeks, along with other emergency supplies. The Northeastern Minnesota Regional Hospital and Public Health Emergency Preparedness Group has created a family preparedness website at that provides information about preparing an emergency kit. Minnesota Public Health officials have had a pandemic emergency plan in place since 1999, and have received national recognition for its nation-leading plan.
Hospitals and healthcare providers, and county and tribal public health agencies have been working together with other emergency providers to prepare for emergencies in northeastern Minnesota.
In case of any emergency event, always listen to your local radio or television station for advice on appropriate actions for you and your family. For more information go the Northeast Minnesota regional family preparedness website at or contact your nearest Public Health office in Ely, Duluth, Hibbing or Virginia for the "Be Prepared" fact sheet.