A pandemic is a global disease outbreak. A flu pandemic occurs when a new strain of influenza virus begins to circulate to which humans have little or no natural resistance. The disease can spread easily from person-to-person and may quickly affect people around both the country and the world. At the present time, a pandemic strain is not in widespread circulation; however, pandemic strains have appeared periodically throughout history. Three noteworthy flu pandemics took place in the past century (in 1918, 1957, and 1968).
In a typical flu season, between 5% and 20% of people fall ill and an average of 36,000 Americans (most over age 65) die. Seasonal flu vaccine is the best way to prevent illness and death. Pandemic flu viruses may cause illness in 20 to 40% of the population and cause more severe illness and deaths than ordinary seasonal flu strains. A pandemic virus vaccine may take months to produce after a pandemic starts. For these reasons, there are important steps families, communities and employers should take to limit the impact of a future pandemic flu virus on our health and our economy.
Avian influenza strains are quite common in waterfowl (such as ducks) and also can infect poultry or other birds. Most avian influenza viruses do not cause human illness and often cause only mild symptoms in birds.
The H5N1 strain of avian influenza is different from most avian flu strains because the more severe strains, or highly pathogenic varieties, can be deadly in birds and have caused severe illness and death in humans in rare instances. It has not been detected in North or South America. This strain is being closely monitored by the scientific community in wild and domestic birds. Countries affected by H5N1 outbreaks are taking steps to control such outbreaks and stop its spread. The U.S. government does not allow birds or bird products to be imported from affected areas.
As with tornados and other disasters, there are steps every family can take to better prepare themselves for a pandemic. The links below provide guidance from the federal government for individuals and families preparing to respond to an influenza pandemic. Advanced planning for caring of children and vulnerable loved ones can keep families safer and healthier during a pandemic and will help to minimize the disruption of normal community activities and healthcare services.
The state Department of Health Pandemic Influenza Response Plan contains the policy framework necessary for a consistent response to pandemic influenza across the state.
Regional Pandemic Influenza Operational Response Plans
The operational details necessary for carrying out response activities at the local level are contained in plans prepared by regional and metropolitan health departments in collaboration with community partners. Local and state plans undergo routine revision in response to testing and evaluation. All regional health departments have revised plans effective March 7, 2007; contact your local or regional health department for additional information. Current versions are posted or linked below:
Metropolitan Health Departments