PANAMA CITY, Panama (NNS) -- Representatives from 10 U.S. government agencies are holding a two-day table-top exercise in cooperation with the government of Panama to assist in responding to any future influenza pandemic Sept. 16.
The agency representatives are in Panama in conjunction with Fuerzas Aliadas PANAMAX 2009, a 12-day military security training exercise involving 20 countries.
The representatives discussed how the United States and the Panamanian government can manage an influenza outbreak by utilizing their agencies' assets to combat a pandemic.
"Our goal is to work as close as possible with the Panamanians in case there is a real threat, such as a pandemic influenza," said U.S. Navy Capt. Miguel A. Cubano, a medical doctor and command surgeon for the U.S. Southern Command. "We want to help them set up a plan so a pandemic outbreak does not have a great impact on their economy, stop people from going to work and school and stop the operations of the Panama Canal."
The agencies present included the Department of State, Department of Homeland Security, Department of Agriculture, Department of Commerce, Federal Aviation Administration, U.S. Agency for International Development, Department of Health and Human Services, U.S. Army, U.S. Coast Guard and U.S. Navy.
Since the severity of flu outbreaks is difficult to predict, the U.S. agencies are sharing tools and information to help Panama combat any level of influenza outbreak.
Influenza usually starts suddenly, with symptoms that include fever, headache, tiredness, coughing, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, diarrhea and vomiting. Many different illnesses, including the common cold, can have similar symptoms, so diagnosis and communication are key to anticipating an unusually severe flu outbreak.
The U.S. Navy is working with the Panamanian government and other U.S. agencies to build a preventive plan to fight all diseases, not just the flu.
According to U.S. Coast Guard Cmdr. Joselito S. Ignacio, head of the Coast Guard's Environment Health Division, Navy and Coast Guard vessels could play an important role in combating future epidemics.
"The Coast Guard will work diligently to provide maritime support in our role to help the people of Panama defeat a pandemic outbreak," Ignacio said.
The pandemic exercise is not directly part of the FA PANAMAX 2009 maritime exercise, but is occurring concurrently.
FA PANAMAX 2009 is one of the largest multinational training exercises in the world, and is taking place in the waters off the coasts of Panama from Sept. 11-22 with the participation of civil and military forces.
More than 20 vessels and a dozen aircraft are involved in the exercises. Participants are focusing on a variety of responses to any request from the Government of Panama to protect and guarantee safe passage of traffic through the Panama Canal, ensure its neutrality, and respect national sovereignty. Simulated ground forces are also participating at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas.
For more news from U.S. Forces Southern Command, visit www.navy.mil/local/southcom.