What is a pandemic? It is a ‘global’ disease outbreak. They can occur when a new influenza A virus emerges for which there is little or no immunity in the human population. Without human immunity serious illnesses spread easily person-to-person regional and then worldwide.
For example, the 2009 flu pandemic was a global outbreak of a new strain of H1N1 influenza virus, often referred to as “swine flu”.
The virus, first described in April 2009, appeared to be a new strain of H1N1 which resulted when a previous triple reassortment of bird, pig, and human flu viruses further combined with a Eurasian pig flu virus.
Three flu pandemics happened in the 1900s. Near the end of World War I, the 1918 was the most severe of the century. It killed about 675,000 people in the United States and between 20 – 50 million people around the world.
If you check your family’s history, you may find how your family was affected at that time. Almost everyone was touched in some way by the 1918 Flu Pandemic. Others in the 1900s were less severe.
Pandemics have happened throughout history, affecting thousands of lives.
Limiting Contact Helps to Save Lives
We have learned from past, limiting contact among people helps to slow the spread of the virus and helps to save lives. Being around other people makes you more likely to get sick or to make others sick. The flu could spread and more people could get sick.
Until a vaccine can be made, limiting contact among people will be our main tool for helping to contain the disease and to prevent others from getting it.
During a flu outbreak, health officials may ask you and your community to take actions to help limit contact among people. Your daily routines could change for several months.
Actions to Limit Contact
- Sick people will be asked to stay home. Most people with flu can be cared for at home.
- During a flu outbreak, hospitals may only have room to care for patients who are the most ill or require special care.
CDC recommends that you stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever (100°F or 37.8°C) is gone except to get medical care or for other things you have to do and no one else can do for you. (Your fever should be gone without the use of a fever-reducing medicine, such as Tylenol®.) You should stay home from work, school, travel, shopping, social events, and public gatherings.
- Even people who are not sick may be asked to stay home.
- Household members may be asked to stay home if a person in the household is sick. This is because other household members may be infected but not sick yet. They could spread the virus to others.
- Household members may soon get sick, too. Make a plan for your household if everyone has to stay home.
- In severe flu outbreaks, students may be dismissed from school.
- Schools, after-school functions, and child-care programs may be closed. Parents may be asked to protect their children by keeping them from being with other children outside of school.
- Find out what your school or child-care program is planning to do in a pandemic.
- Plan how you will take care of your children if they need to stay home and how you would limit contact with others.
- People may also be asked to limit contact with others in the community and workplace.
- Places where people gather, such as theaters and places of worship, may be closed. Events such as sporting events or concerts may be delayed or cancelled.
- Businesses may allow some people to work from home or change work shifts to limit contact between workers.
- Ask your workplace or community groups what they plan to do.
How to Prepare
You need to start planning now before a crisis occurs.
You need to be ready when it first arrives in your area. Information will be given on local TV, radio, web sites, and in the newspaper. Limiting contact among people early will save more lives.
Making plans now will help you to be ready for the next flu pandemic, which could last up to several months.
- Make a list of important contacts for home, school, and work.
- Talk with your neighbors, workplace, and school about how to plan for staying home if you or your household members are sick.
- Think about services you may need and make plans with your service providers.
- Although it may last several months, buy and store at least 2-weeks’
supplies of food, water, medicine, and facemasks. (Food and supplies may be hard to get during a pandemic.) When you have to stay home, these supplies will support your family and pets.
Wash Hands and Cover Coughs and Sneezes
Usually these viruses spread from person to person, mostly through coughing and sneezing. When a sick person coughs or sneezes near you, you can breathe in droplets that have the virus. The droplets also could land on surfaces you may touch with your hands.
Get in the habit of washing your hands often and covering your coughs and sneezes. These actions can help you stay healthy now. They also may help protect you and your family during a flu pandemic.
Teach your family the importance of these habits and have them practice now:
- Wash your hands often with soap and water. If there is no soap and water, use an alcohol-based hand gel. Wash your hands before eating, drinking, or touching your face.
- Cover your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze. Throw used tissues away in a trash can, and wash your hands. If you do not have a tissue, cough or sneeze into your sleeve and not into your hands.
Enterovirus 71 is a type of hand, foot and mouth disease that children are susceptible to. On May 3, 2008, Chinese health authorities reported a major outbreak of EV71 enterovirus in Fuyang city and other localities in Anhui, Zhejiang, and Guangdong provinces. As of May 3, 2008, 3736 cases, mainly in children have been reported, with 22 dead, 42 critically ill, and 415 new cases have been reported in the last 24 hours in Fuyang City alone.
H5N1 Avian Flu
Much concern today is focused on the H5N1 ‘Avian Flu’ virus, a virus that currently only spreads via bird to human contact. There are widespread fears the virus may mutate to be able to spread by human to human contact, which could cause an influenza pandemic similar to the 1918 Influenza Pandemic that killed approximately 3% of the world’s population.
Severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) is a respiratory disease in humans that nearly became a pandemic outbreak between November 2002 and July 2003. 8,096 were known to be infected, with 774 deaths and a mortality rate of 9.6%.
Superbugs are normal bacteria that have developed resistance to most major antibiotics. This resistance is often due to the overuse and misuse of antibiotics.
You can look at planning guides to help you, your family, your workplace, and your community at www.pandemicflu.gov.
Pandemic Influenza Planning: A Guide for Individuals and Families