What is pandemic influenza?
An influenza, or “flu” pandemic is a global outbreak of disease that occurs when a new influenza A virus appears or "emerges" in the human population, causes serious illness, and then spreads easily from person to person worldwide.
More people get sick because they have never been exposed to this virus before and their bodies cannot fight it off. This allows the virus to spread widely and cause illness among many people creating what is called a pandemic. The symptoms of pandemic flu are similar to those of seasonal flu, but can be more severe. New pandemic viruses often begin with a bird virus. Bird viruses do not usually spread easily among people, but they can develop new characteristics that allow them to do so. This is more likely to happen when birds and humans live in close proximity to each other. Following are key facts about pandemic flu:
Pandemic flu usually starts with a new flu virus (typically an animal flu virus like the bird flu).
It causes a worldwide outbreak of serious illness that spreads from person to person.
Currently, there is no flu pandemic.
When a flu pandemic occurs, as many as one in every four people can get sick.
No vaccine is commercially available for pandemic flu – because no one can predict which virus will cause a pandemic.
Once researchers know which virus is causing the pandemic, it may take about 6 months or longer to produce an adequate vaccine.
What can I do to prepare for pandemic influenza?
Currently there is no influenza pandemic, and globally we are in the pre-pandemic preparation phase. While the thought of a global disease outbreak may seem overwhelming, there are many things you can do to prepare for pandemic influenza and reduce your risk. Fortunately, these actions are similar to those recommended for any potential public health emergency and include the following steps:
Protect your health
Develop preparedness plans
Get educated. Read about pandemic influenza and avian influenza from official sources and pay attention to stories in the media. Local officials will work with the media to deliver important messages to the public about any local health issues.
Protect your health. To defend yourself against illness, implement the following practices:
Wash your hands often with soap and warm water;
Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth as much as possible;
Stay away from people who are sick;
Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve when coughing or sneezing;
Get regular exercise, enough rest and eat healthy, and balanced meals.
The CDC offers additional information on Stopping the Spread of Germs at Home, Work & School.
Develop preparedness plans. According to the federal government, "A pandemic is likely to be a prolonged and widespread outbreak that could require temporary changes in many areas of society, such as schools, work, transportation, and other public services. An informed and prepared public can take appropriate actions to decrease their risk during a pandemic." (Source: www.PandemicFlu.gov, Accessed June 29, 2006)
During a pandemic, what precautions can I take to avoid the spread of influenza?
The same measures outlined above (get educated, protect your health, and develop preparedness plans) are the same as those necessary to prevent its spread. As with other infectious illnesses, one of the most important preventive practices is careful and frequent hand washing. Cleaning your hands often, especially after sneezing or coughing, using soap and water, or applying waterless alcohol-based hand rubs removes potentially infectious materials from your skin and helps prevent the spread of diseases.
General food preparation and safety guidelines should also be followed. Influenza viruses are destroyed by heat; therefore, as a precaution, all foods from poultry, including eggs and poultry blood, should be thoroughly cooked.