Kulongoski, Leavitt Plan Oregon Bird Flu Summit

March 28, 2006

If bird flu breaks out among humans in Oregon, hospitals could be short of mechanical breathing machines, forcing doctors to make life-and-death decisions about who gets to use them.

Ventilators essential to treating severe influenza and accompanying pneumonia will be one topic Thursday when Oregon’s updated bird flu plan is unveiled at a summit meeting in Portland.

The federal government is holding such planning sessions in every state. Gov. Ted Kulongoski and Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt, along with health and other state leaders, will attend.

The Oregon plan envisions two possibilities — a moderate epidemic that would kill 2,700 Oregonians or a monster that would kill as many as 24,000. The estimate is based on national figures developed by National Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Planners assume that in both scenarios, about a third of Oregonians — 1.17 million — could become ill. The severity of illnesses would depend on the characteristics of the flu virus after it becomes transmissible between people.

A moderate pandemic would hospitalize 11,245 Oregonians, planners assume, and of that number, 845 would require ventilators and 1,677 would need a bed in an intensive care unit.

The worst-case scenario assumes 128,700 would need hospitalization, 9,646 would need ventilators and 19,305 would need intensive care. About 400 adult intensive care beds are in the state.

Dr. Katrina Hedberg, manager of communicable disease preparedness for the state Department of Human Services, said Oregon hospitals have 700 regular ventilators and 1,800 one-time-use disposable devices.

How many would actually be available would depend on how many staff members were healthy enough to operate them and how many were in use by people with other life-threatening ailments, she said.

Hedberg said that in a moderate flu scenario, enough ventilators might be available, depending on how the cases are spread throughout the flu season. In the worst case, she said, there would be many times more patients than breathing machines. That could make it necessary for medical workers to ration the scarce devices, possibly giving them to healthier patients who would be more likely to survive their illnesses.

Oregon’s plan focuses on preparations for a moderate pandemic, Hedberg said, because in the severe scenario, the scale of the disaster would overwhelm most planning efforts.

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