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Utah Towns Plan to Provide Flu Meds for Key Workers

SALT LAKE CITY -- Fear of a flu pandemic has cities across Utah asking not "what if?" but "what now?"

They want to know what they can and should do now to prepare for such an outbreak.

One step: Treat their critical personnel with the anti-viral medication oseltamivir, also known as Tamiflu.

That's what Eastern Utah health officials plan to do as more health departments survey civic leaders in their areas to see if they are interested in buying the drug.

Meanwhile, in northern Utah's Cache County, tiny Wellsville (population 2,700) is purchasing oseltamivir from the Bear River Health Department and weighing who should get the 12-week treatment course at $165 a pop.

Joseph Shaffer, director of the Tri-County Health Department covering eastern Utah's Daggett, Duchesne and Uintah counties, said his board recently decided to buy the drug to cover Health Department staffers and their families.

"Someone needs to shame the state into stepping up to the plate," Shaffer said. "The state told the local organizations they need to do the job [of treating critical personnel]. It would cost us $1 million to $12 million, and we just don't have that kind of money."

Robert Rolfs, epidemiologist with the Utah Department of Health, noted the state set aside $750,000 in the past legislative session to buy oseltamivir. He said Utah's current stockpile includes about 400,000 treatment courses.

"We know a pandemic will occur," Rolfs said. "We just don't know when. We will depend enormously on people being as self-reliant as possible."

On Feb. 6, Wellsville's City Council will decide how many treatment courses to buy and who will receive them.

"At those kinds of prices, you can't afford to buy enough for everyone," City Manager Don Hartle said.

A number of Wellsville first responders, elected officials, water and sewer operators and other vital employees would have access to the stockpile.

Other northern cities can buy the drug, too, from the Bear River Health Department at a reduced price.

Keith Larsen, director of Bear River Health Department Emergency Services, said the medication is being made available to key city personnel. But the public will have to wait.

"We are working with the state and the feds on stockpiling the medications for the general public," he said.

abrunson@sltrib.com

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