Pandemic Influenza Facts

What is Pandemic Influenza?
According to pandemicflu.gov and the Minnesota Department of Health, a pandemic is a global disease outbreak. 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. Wherever and whenever a pandemic starts, everyone around the world is at risk. Countries might, through measures such as border closures and travel restrictions, delay arrival of the virus, but cannot stop it.
Health professionals are concerned that the continued spread of a highly pathogenic avian H5N1 virus across eastern Asia and other countries represents a significant threat to human health. The H5N1 virus has raised concerns about a potential human pandemic because:
• It 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, and
• Like other influenza viruses, it continues to evolve.

What is the difference between pandemic flu and seasonal flu?
Seasonal Flu Pandemic Flu

• Occurs every year during the winter
• Affects up to about 10% of the population
• For most people it is an unpleasant but not life-threatening infection
• The very young, the very old, and people with certain chronic illnesses are most at risk of serious illness.
• Annual vaccination is available
• Antiviral drugs are available to treat those at special risk
• Has occurred three times in the last 90 years
• Can occur at any time of the year
• It is a more serious infection for everyone
• People of every age may be at risk of serious illness
• A vaccine probably won’t be available when the pandemic starts – when it does become available the aim will be to immunize people as rapidly as possible as vaccine supplies become available
• Antiviral drugs are likely to be in limited supply and will have to be used to best effect according to how the disease develops.
Vaccine against ordinary flu will not protect against pandemic flu. However, getting your annual flu shot is one of several things you can do to keep yourself healthy, and that may help you fight off the pandemic virus.

What would the next pandemic be like in Minnesota?
In 1918, pandemic influenza spread across the country in less than a month. Now, in the era of international air travel, a new pandemic will probably spread even faster, reaching Minnesota quickly after it is identified. Since everyone in the country would be hit pandemic at about the same time, we shouldn't expect help from other states.
Many people will get sick, and some will die. We expect that around 25% or 30% of our population might get the disease over the course of several months, and around two percent will die. People won't be able to come to work because they are sick, are caring for someone who is sick, or are scared they will get sick from others at work, so absenteeism rates may be very high. Services in your community, such as utilities, grocery stores, and public transportation may be disrupted. Schools may close.
Hospitals and clinics will be very full, and will be completely overwhelmed. Many people will be cared for at home. Others may get care at huge sites like the Metrodome.
Eventually there will be a vaccine, but it will take months to be produced, and there won't be enough for everyone at first.

What can I do now?
What You Can Do To Prepare for Pandemic

Fact sheet from the Minnesota Department of Health to help you prepare.

More information about pandemics

Pandemic Flu Facts

Link to the Minnesota Department of Health with information and more resources.

Ten Things You Need to Know About Pandemic Influenza

WHO (World Health Organization) fact sheet giving an overview of possible effects of influenza pandemic.

General Information - PandemicFlu.gov
Overview of pandemics, and the possible pandemic threat we're facing right now.