An influenza pandemic occurs when a novel and highly contagious strain of the influenza virus emerges, affecting populations around the world. Historically, influenza pandemics have occurred every 11-39 years. It has been more than 30 years since the last pandemic. Many experts consider influenza pandemic to be inevitable, yet no one knows when the next one will occur.
Florida's geographic and demographic characteristics make it particularly vulnerable to importation and spread of infectious diseases, including influenza. Nearly one third of Florida's population resides in urban/suburban areas of 3 southeastern counties, including large populations of immigrants. Florida's two Interstate road systems bring in thousands of tourists each year. The two largest of the 13 international airports are in Orlando and Miami; 38,000,000 visitors used air travel in year 2000.
The Department of Health has estimated that an influenza pandemic could result in Florida of up to 10 million persons infected, with 5 million chronically ill. An estimated 3 million persons may require outpatient care with an additional 71,000 hospitalizations and up to 18,000 deaths. Demands on health care services under these conditions would overwhelm the state's delivery system. Shifts in human and material resources that are normally executed during other natural disasters will not be possible since outbreaks are expected to occur simultaneously throughout much of the U.S.
It is expected that effective preventive and therapeutic measures - including vaccines and antiviral agents - will be in short supply, as may some antibiotics used for treatment of secondary infections. Existing medical facilities may be quickly overwhelmed, requiring the use of non-traditional medical settings. Healthcare workers and other first responders will likely be at even higher risk of exposure and illness than the general population, further impeding the care of victims. In addition, communications systems are likely to be overwhelmed.
An influenza pandemic preparedness plan has been developed to ensure that Florida is prepared to implement an effective response before the next pandemic arrives. Florida has been participating with a number of other states in an initiative to develop state influenza pandemic plans, following guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, with funding from the Council for State and Territorial Epidemiologists. The purpose of this plan is to provide a guide for the Florida Department of Health (DOH) and other state and local agencies on detecting and responding to an influenza pandemic. The plan describes disease surveillance, emergency management, vaccine delivery, laboratory and communications activities, as well as how multiple agencies should work together to respond to such an event.