Pandemic Flu

Background

Pandemic flu is an outbreak of a new type of influenza virus that spreads rapidly from one country to another. Because the virus is new, people have no natural immunity to it, and vaccine will not be available for many months. Without vaccine or immunity, the virus passes rapidly from person to person. Hundreds of thousands in the U.S.A. could get sick, and many could die. There were three large flu pandemics in the 20th century, 1918, 1957 and 1968. No one knows where or when the next flu pandemic will begin, but health officials agree that it is only a matter of time.

What to expect if an outbreak occurs

A flu pandemic could be devastating, so everyone should be prepared for the worst. With up to one third of the workforce sick or staying home, supplies and services could be limited or disrupted. Extraordinary measures could be required. It may be necessary to stay away from other people; large public events like concerts or sports could be cancelled, and schools could be closed. Health officials may issue orders to keep people with the virus at home or in special facilities. It may be required to wear a mask in medical facilities or other public places. A flu pandemic could last a long time. The 1918 flu pandemic lasted 18 months.

What to do now
  • Know your neighbors. Encourage others to prepare.
  • Be ready to help family and neighbors who are elderly or have special needs if services they depend on are not available.
  • Know school policies about illness and absence. Make a plan for taking care of children if schools are closed for long periods.
  • Be prepared to stay home from work during sickness. Know work policies about sick leave, absence, time off and telecommuting.
  • Encourage planning. Every workplace should have a plan for doing essential tasks if large numbers of employees are absent over many months.
  • Explore ways to get work done with less personal contact, such as increased use of email and phone conferences.
  • Be prepared to survive for a week or more on the contents of your home. Stores may not be open or may have limited supplies.
  • Limit the number of trips for shopping or running errands.
Prevent the spread of germs

The flu virus is spread from person to person when an infected person coughs, sneezes or touches things that others use.

To protect yourself and others:
  • Cover mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing using your sleeve or a tissue.
  • Wash hands frequently. Soap and warm water are best, but alcohol-based hand gel or disposable wipes also work.
  • Don’t touch eyes, nose or mouth. The flu virus is often spread when a person touches something that has the flu virus on it and then touches his or her eyes, nose or mouth.
  • Stay home during sickness. Drink extra water. Get plenty of rest, and check with a healthcare provider as needed.
Learn home care basics
  • Know how to care for someone with fever, body aches and lung congestion. During a pandemic, follow health officials’ instructions.
  • Learn about dehydration. The flu virus causes the body to lose water through fever and sweating. Signs of dehydration include weakness, fainting, dry mouth, dark concentrated urine, low blood pressure or a fast pulse when lying or sitting down. To prevent dehydration, it is very important for a person with the flu to drink a lot of water, up to 12 glasses a day.
Terminology

Avian (Bird) Flu – is caused by influenza A viruses that occur naturally among birds. The avian flu currently of concern is the H5N1 subtype.

Influenza (Flu) – an acute, contagious, infectious disease caused by any of a specific group of viruses and characterized by inflammation of the respiratory tract, fever, and muscular pain.

Pandemic – a global disease outbreak.

Seasonal Flu – follows predictable seasonal patterns; occurs annually (usually in winter) in temperate climates. Health systems can usually meet public and patient needs with vaccine developed based on known flu strains.