This information has been reviewed and adapted for use in South Carolina by James H. Blake, HGIC Director/Adjunct Professor, J. G. Hunter, HGIC Nutrition Specialist, and K. L. Cason, Professor, State EFNEP Coordinator, Clemson University. (New 01/07.)
An influenza (flu) pandemic is a worldwide outbreak of flu disease that occurs when a new type of influenza virus appears that people have not been exposed to before (or have not been exposed to in a long time). The pandemic virus can cause serious illness because people do not have immunity to the new virus. Pandemics are different from seasonal outbreaks of influenza that we see every year. Seasonal influenza is caused by influenza virus types to which people have already been exposed. Its impact on society is less severe than a pandemic, and influenza vaccines (flu shots and nasal-spray vaccine) are available to help prevent widespread illness from seasonal flu.
Influenza pandemics are different from many of the other major public health and health care threats facing our country and the world. A pandemic will last much longer than most flu outbreaks and may include "waves" of influenza activity that last 6-8 weeks separated by months. The number of health care workers and first responders able to work may be reduced. Public health officials will not know how severe a pandemic will be until it begins.
A Historical Perspective: In the last century there were three influenza pandemics. All of them were called pandemics because of their worldwide spread and because they were caused by a new influenza virus. The 1918 pandemic was especially severe.
|Seasonal Flu||Pandemic Flu|
|Caused by influenza viruses that are similar to those already circulating among people.||Caused by a new influenza virus that people have not been exposed to before. Likely to be more severe, affect more people, and cause more deaths than seasonal influenza because people will not have immunity to the new virus.|
|Symptoms include fever, headache, tiredness, dry cough, sore throat, runny nose, and muscle pain. Deaths can be caused by complications such as pneumonia.||Symptoms similar to the common flu but may be more severe and complications more serious|
|Healthy adults usually not at risk for serious complications (the very young, the elderly, and those with certain underlying health conditions are at increased risk for serious complications).||Healthy adults may be at increased risk for serious complications.|
|Every year in the United States, on average:
||The effects of a severe pandemic could be much more damaging than those of a regular flu season. It could lead to high levels of illness, death, social disruption, and economic loss. Everyday life could be disrupted because so many people in so many places become seriously ill at the same time. Impacts could range from school and business closings to the interruption of basic services such as public transportation and food delivery.|
Importance & Benefits of Being Prepared: The effects of a pandemic can be lessened if you prepare ahead of time. Preparing for a disaster will help bring peace of mind and confidence to deal with a pandemic.
When a pandemic starts, everyone around the world could be at risk. The United States has been working closely with other countries and the World Health Organization (WHO) to strengthen systems to detect outbreaks of influenza that might cause a pandemic.
A pandemic would touch every aspect of society, so every part of society must begin to prepare. All have roles in the event of a pandemic. Federal, state, tribal, and local governments are developing, improving, and testing their plans for an influenza pandemic. Businesses, schools, universities, and other faith-based and community organizations are also preparing plans.
As you begin your individual or family planning, you may want to review your state's planning efforts and those of your local public health and emergency preparedness officials. State plans and other planning information can be found at www.pandemicflu.gov/plan/checklists.html.
The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and other federal agencies are providing funding, advice, and other support to your state. The federal government will provide up-to-date information and guidance to the public if an influenza pandemic unfolds. For reliable, accurate, and timely information, visit the federal government's official web site at www.pandemicflu.gov.
As you and your family plan for an influenza pandemic, think about the challenges you might face, particularly if a pandemic is severe.
You can start to prepare now to be able to respond to these challenges. The following are some challenges you or your family may face and recommendations to help you cope. In addition, checklists and other tools have been prepared to guide your planning efforts. A series of planning checklists can be found at www.pandemicflu.gov/plan/checklists.html.
Essential Services You Depend on May Be Disrupted:
Food & Water Supplies May Be Interrupted & Limited: Food and water supplies may be interrupted so temporary shortages could occur. You may also be unable to get to a store. To prepare for this possibility you should store at least one to two weeks supply of non-perishable food and fresh water for emergencies.
Being Able to Work May Be Difficult or Impossible:
For the Business Checklist visit: http://www.pandemicflu.gov/plan/business/businesschecklist.html
Schools & Daycare Centers May Be Closed for an Extended Period of Time: Schools, and potentially public and private preschool, childcare, trade schools, and colleges and universities may be closed to limit the spread of flu in the community and to help prevent children from becoming sick. Other school-related activities and services could also be disrupted or canceled including: clubs, sports/sporting events, music activities, and school meals. School closings would likely happen very early in a pandemic and could occur on short notice.
For the "Childcare, School, and University Checklist," visit: http://www.pandemicflu.gov/plan/tab5.html
Medical Care for People with Chronic Illness Could Be Disrupted: In a severe pandemic, hospitals and doctors' offices may be overwhelmed.
Stay Healthy: These steps may help prevent the spread of respiratory illnesses such as the flu:
Vaccination: Vaccines are used to protect people from contracting a virus once a particular threat is identified. After an individual has been infected by a virus, a vaccine generally cannot help to combat it. Because viruses change over time, a specific pandemic influenza vaccine cannot be produced until a pandemic influenza virus emerges and is identified. Once a pandemic influenza virus has been identified, it will likely take 4-6 months to develop, test, and begin producing a vaccine.
While there is currently no human pandemic influenza in the world, the federal government is facilitating production of vaccines for several existing avian influenza viruses. These vaccines may provide some protection should one of these viruses change and cause an influenza pandemic. The supply of pandemic vaccine will be limited, particularly in the early stages of a pandemic.
Efforts are being made to increase vaccine-manufacturing capacity in the United States so that supplies of vaccines would be more readily available. In addition, research is underway to develop new ways to produce vaccines more quickly.
Antivirals: A number of antiviral drugs are approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to treat and prevent seasonal influenza. Some of these antiviral medications may be effective in treating pandemic influenza. These drugs may help prevent infection in people at risk and shorten the duration of symptoms in those infected with pandemic influenza. However, it is unlikely that antiviral medications alone would effectively contain the spread of pandemic influenza. The federal government is stockpiling antiviral medications that would most likely be used in the early stages of an influenza pandemic and working to develop new antiviral medications. These drugs are available by prescription only.
Will the Seasonal Flu Shot Protect Me Against Pandemic Influenza?
What is the U.S. Government Doing to Prepare for Pandemic Influenza?
The U.S. government has been preparing for pandemic influenza for several years. In November 2005, the President announced the National Strategy for Pandemic Influenza.
Ongoing Preparations Include the Following:
For More Information:
U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. Pandemic Influenza - A guide for Individuals & Families. Get Informed. Be Prepared. September 13, 2006. http://pandemicflu.gov/plan/individual/familyguide.html
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