By Shari Rudavsky

Posted: May 14, 2009

Indiana’s health commissioner is recommending that counties hold town hall meetings this summer to help Hoosiers prepare for the possibility of a new outbreak of swine influenza or another flu strain.

The meetings, Dr. Judith Monroe said, would allow counties to revisit pandemic plans developed in response to the bird flu scare several years ago.

With public health officials warning that the swine flu virus could return in a more dangerous form during the regular flu season this fall, now is a good time to fine-tune blueprints for handling such a crisis, said Monroe, head of the Indiana State Department of Health.

“We have an incredible teachable moment here,” Monroe said. “I have called this (spring’s outbreak) a dress rehearsal.”

Indiana has had 70 confirmed cases of swine flu, also known as the H1N1 virus. Nationally, more than 3,350 cases have been reported in 45 states, and three people have died.

Three years ago, every county put together a pandemic preparedness plan that also could be used in the event of natural disasters or bioterrorism.

Monroe said she hopes representatives from business, schools, hospitals, the faith community and the public attend the town hall meetings to revisit those plans.

“This was our test case,” she said of the swine flu outbreak. “If we don’t seize this moment, we will lose an opportunity to improve upon what I think are pretty good plans.”

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