Catholic News Service (www.catholicnews.com)
The world is statistically overdue for a flu pandemic, said Bruce Johnson,
chief strategist for Bioingenuity and chairman of the avian flu task force
at Westwood Community Church in Excelsior. A former researcher with a major
feed company, he holds a doctorate in animal science.
"The sky in my world is not falling," despite the many warnings that a bird
flu pandemic could, someday soon, kill half the world's population, he said.
Johnson spoke at a community preparedness forum on the bird flu at Westwood
Community Church. The forum drew church staff members from St. Luke Catholic
Church in St. Paul, Minn., to St. Hubert Catholic Church in Chanhassen,
Minn., and elsewhere.
A pandemic is a disease that starts locally and spreads worldwide. The bird
flu – known as the H5N1 virus – has caused 128 human deaths as of June 6,
according to World Health Organization reports.
According to information from WHO and both the national and Minnesota
pandemic influenza plans, the flu is highly contagious and affects both domestic
and migratory birds.
Experts predict that the virus will be in migratory birds that will reach the
United States by the end of June, most likely in Alaska or California. The virus
already has been found in migratory birds in the United Kingdom and Scotland.
The worry is that the bird virus will mutate into a human-to-human virus,
similar to the 1918-1919 Spanish flu, Johnson said. Some 20 million to 40
million people died worldwide in that epidemic. Unofficially, it may have been
100 million, Johnson said.
In a worst-case pandemic flu scenario, Minnesota's Human Health Services
estimates that 30,000 people in Minnesota could die over an eight-week period.
In an average year, 38,000 people die from all causes in Minnesota.
About 40 percent of the workforce would be home ill or caring for ill family
members or self-isolating for two weeks or more during the eight weeks of the
first wave of the influenza. Those most at risk would be school-age children,
young adults and pregnant women.
Rev. Dave Trautmann, adult ministries pastor at Westwood Community Church in
Excelsior, said the June 1 gathering was a grass-roots effort that developed
from a previous gathering of 30 church, medical and public health leaders in
Bryan Higgins and Susan Danzeisen from the Basilica of St. Mary in
Minneapolis were among the people who heard about the June 1 forum through the
National Association of Church Business Administrators.
Higgins, the basilica's night and weekend coordinator, said, "Overall, we're
trying to plan ahead." With many social service programs and about 250 meetings
a week, the parish needs to have a plan to meet the needs, he told The
Catholic Spirit, newspaper of the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis.
Danzeisen, administrative assistant to basilica facilities, said she believes
many people are in denial about the bird flu.
"Look at New Orleans," she said. Poor emergency planning left people stranded
for days in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.
"Families should have a plan," she said, because people can't depend on the
Tim Remington, Westwood communications director, said he heard a talk by the
CEO of an oil company in New Orleans that had a plan in place for its employees
to get back to work after a hurricane. The company was back to work weeks before
other companies after Katrina because it had cash, food and temporary housing
set up in advance.
"I thought, 'If this oil company can do that for their employees, do we have
a plan for our employees as a church? Do we have a plan for our communities of
faith and those outside of our community?'" he said. "We certainly have a higher
call than what business does.... Those who prepare will be more able to be the
hands and feet of Jesus."