Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Greenville, South Carolina: Guest column: We're overdue for a pandemic so be prepared

August 3, 2013
For more than a decade, public health experts have warned that we are long overdue for a global pandemic, one with the power to claim millions of lives in a matter of months.

Such prognostications conjure up images of Chicken Little and cries of “the sky is falling.” In a world of modern medicine, where diseases like smallpox and polio have been virtually eliminated, it’s difficult to imagine that a virus invisible to the naked eye could spread around the world with blinding speed, wipe out huge numbers of people and completely disrupt life as we know it.

It’s also easy to think it can’t happen here in Greenville, let alone the United States. We have the finest doctors and hospitals, immunizations and drugs, and public and private systems designed to protect us.

And yet, the truth is, we are overdue for a global pandemic. Pandemics are scary, in large part because they can happen anytime, anywhere and strike with virulent stealth and strength. Viral hemorrhagic fevers, SARS, various forms of flu and antibiotic resistant “super bugs” are all possibilities. There is simply no way to determine if a variant strain of influenza or another disease altogether will cause the next pandemic.

Equally frightening is experts warn there is a growing lack of preparedness to address the catastrophic effects a pandemic would wreak on all aspects of society.
Fortunately, the University of South Carolina School of Medicine Greenville isn’t sitting on the sidelines waiting for the proverbial sky to fall. In early August, we are holding a first-in-the-nation, hands-on pandemic preparedness exercise for second-year medical students designed to teach them how to respond to the medical, logistical and ethical challenges posed by pandemic outbreaks.

Dr. Thomas Blackwell is a professor of Emergency Medicine at the USC School of Medicine Greenville. He previously was an attending physician in the Department of Emergency Medicine at Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte and is widely considered a visionary in disaster and terrorism preparedness and response medicine, a niche specialty he created in the 1980s.

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