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Officials discuss health emergency scenarios

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Posted: Monday, February 6, 2006 10:00 pm

While an anthrax attack in San Joaquin County is unlikely, county health officials say it's hardly impossible. That's why the county's Public Health Services department will meet Wednesday with representatives from local cities to talk about how vaccinations, inoculations and medicine would be distributed to the public during such an emergency.

How to stop the spread of diseases such as pandemic influenza or smallpox will be discussed as well, said Roberto Alaniz, a deputy director of health promotion and administration for public health. Pandemic influenza refers to a mutated, much stronger version of a virus similar to the common, annual flu bug, and one that the public has difficulty adjusting to.

"It's part of our overall plan for emergency preparedness and public health," Alaniz said. "It's coincidental that there is a lot of talk these days about pandemic influenza."

The one-day seminar will be a chance for health planners to talk about what their research has shown about protection against diseases and to ask all cities to evaluate their buildings to see if they would be capable of serving as emergency clinics.

The public health department has planned for scenarios that run anywhere from two days to two weeks and involve as many as 20 clinics in all parts of the county.

"The question is, how and where do we set up sites and fill them up with staff," Alaniz said. "We are looking for facilities that could accommodate 200 people per hour."

If there were an immediate need for vaccinations, the county could ask the state to ask the federal government to release some of its stockpiled smallpox vaccinations or anthrax antibiotics, county health officer Karen Furst said. The county has no doses on hand for either disease.

West Nile virus, though a potential problem in San Joaquin County, will not be discussed because no vaccination exists.

To effectively distribute any vaccination, a system has to be in place. That's what the thrust of the discussion is about.

Specific talk will center on how to effectively distribute vaccinations to the public. People could get inoculations against diseases and infections such as avian influenza at clinics that could be set up quickly. Traffic, accessibility and space are the three most important factors for clinics, so the best facilities are large halls.

"When the Stockton arena was built, we all thought it would be a great site," Alaniz said.

Other places that have been considered are the Stockton Metropolitan Airport and the county fairgrounds. In Lodi, the Grape Festival Grounds have been discussed. No locations in Tracy have been brought up yet, Alaniz said.

Alaniz added large churches would also serve well as clinics or immunization centers.

Tracy Fire Chief Chris Bosch will attend the conference and said he will offer Sutter Tracy Community Hospital, a community center and the department's seven stations to serve as emergency clinics.

"We are trying to be a good partner," he said. "We will be at the table, and we would like to offer our opinions."

Lodi Fire Chief Mike Pretz said several members of his department will take part in the conference because it is important that the firefighters who will respond during emergencies know what will be happening around them.

"There has to be a wide-ranging cooperation between the county and the cities in the event of an outbreak," Pretz said. "When you practice together, you know the capabilities of the people involved."

Contact reporter Roman Gokhman, call 830-4269 or e-mail romang@tracypress.com.

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