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Winnipeg has plan for possible pandemic

WFPS alerts will track cases

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WINNIPEG — IF a Winnipegger is suspected of hav­ing swine flu, Chief Jim Brennan of the Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service will be one of the first to know.

That's because his Blackberry is linked to the city's First Watch com­puterized data collection system.

It's a system purchased by the city from an American company that helps officials monitor occurrences based on key words input by dispatch­ers and paramedics.

Brennan said it could be invaluable for illnesses like swine flu.

"In the world of bio-surveillance, you can put in certain key words, words like flu-like symptoms, fever, chills, Mexico. When words like that are entered at 911 or from a patient, it sends out an alert to the system.

"Calls like that came to my Black­berry all weekend. It gives the man­agers of the system an idea of the fre­quency of the calls."

Brennan said the system also has the flexibility to enable deeper analy­sis of the calls.

"You can lay the calls over a map of Winnipeg and see where the calls are," he said.

"We'll be able to advise paramed­ics on the areas to take precautions so they can come wearing gloves and masks."

In an email to city councillors in response to a question at Wednes­day's city council meeting, Mayor Sam Katz said the city's paramedics department have also set up other procedures on how to deal with calls from people who may be infected with swine flu.

"The WFPS (Winnipeg Fire Para­medic Service) has been in contact with peers across Canada to share in­formation on safe procedures to deal with calls from persons who may have the swine flu virus," the mayor said.

Katz said 911 dispatchers will ask questions whether the person has been to Mexico and whether they have a fever.

Katz also said the city has a pan­demic plan and is prepared to roll it out if there is a serious outbreak.

The mayor said during the past weekend there were 41 calls to 911 for respiratory ailments, with four of them believed to be serious enough for paramedics to wear masks to the call. None of the four actually had swine flu.

kevin.rollason@freepress.mb.ca

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