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Pandemic Flu

A flu pandemic occurs when a new influenza virus emerges for which people have little or no immunity, and for which there is no vaccine. The disease spreads easily person-to-person, causes serious illness, and can sweep across the country and around the world in very short time. It is difficult to predict when the next influenza pandemic will occur or how severe it will be but there have been 3 major pandemics in the 20th Century; 1918 (Spanish Flu), 1957 and 1968.

Currently, health professionals are concerned that the continued spread of a highly pathogenic avian flu virus (H5N1) across eastern Asia and other countries represents a significant threat to human health. The H5N1 avian flu virus, or "bird flu" has raised concerns about a potential human pandemic because:

  • The H5N1 avian flu is especially virulent
  • It is being spread by migratory birds
  • It can be transmitted from birds to mammals and in some limited circumstances to humans
  • Like other influenza viruses, it continues to evolve, and
  • Few people are prepared with adequate pandemic flu supplies.

The risk from this bird flu is generally low to most people, because the viruses do not usually infect humans. H5N1 is one of the few avian influenza viruses to have crossed the species barrier to infect humans, and it is the most deadly of those that have crossed the barrier. Most cases of H5N1 influenza infection in humans have resulted from contact with infected poultry (e.g., domesticated chicken, ducks, and turkeys) or surfaces contaminated with secretion/excretions from infected birds.

So far, the spread of the H5N1 bird flu virus from person-to-person has been limited and has not continued beyond one person. Nonetheless, because all influenza viruses have the ability to mutate, scientists are concerned that H5N1 virus one day could be able to infect humans and spread easily from one person to another.

Familiarize yourself with these terms to help understand influenza pandemic issues.
  • 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.

When planning for a flu pandemic your survival kits and pandemic flu supplies should be augmented to include:

  • Food and water for up to 2 weeks and possibly as much as 6 weeks
  • Medications for up to 2 weeks including fever and pain medication such as Tylenol
  • Multivitamins to maintain healthy immune system
  • Rehrydration solutions, such as Gatorade or Pedialyte for children
  • Large garbage bags to store infectious trash safely
  • Antibacterial soap and disinfectants for surfaces

To minimize the risk of contracting the flu, take these common-sense steps to limit the spread of germs and make good hygiene a habit.

  • Wash hands frequently with soap and water.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze.
  • Put used tissues in a waste basket.
  • Cough or sneeze into your upper sleeve if you don't have a tissue.
  • Clean your hands after coughing or sneezing. Use soap and water or an alcohol-based hand cleaner.
  • Stay at home if you are sick.

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