Understanding Pandemic Flu

How does Pandemic Flu Spread?

i. What is Pandemic Flu?

Pandemic flu is a worldwide outbreak that results from the emergence of a new influenza virus appears that can cause serious illness in humans, and spreads easily from person to person.

A pandemic flu could happen at any time, and could affect people in Illinois and around the world.

ii. How does pandemic flu occur?

Pandemic flu occurs when a new flu virus that is significantly different from flu viruses that have previously been seen in humans emerges and starts spreading by coughing and sneezing like seasonal flu. Unfortunately, because the virus is new, people have no immunity and no there is no readily available vaccine. Pandemic outbreaks means that people who become ill with pandemic flu may have be sicker than with seasonal flu and Flu-related death may increases. These events can overwhelm health systems around the world and disrupt business, cause schools to close and other life disruptions.

iii. How is pandemic flu different from seasonal flu?

Influenza pandemics are caused by the emergence of a virus that is "novel" (brand new) or radically different from flu viruses that circulated previously. Because people have no or little natural resistance to a new virus, and there is no readily-available vaccine, influenza pandemics often result in much more severe illness and death.

"Seasonal" influenza outbreaks are caused by small changes in the common influenza viruses. Annual outbreaks of the seasonal flu usually occur during the late fall through early spring. Even though these viruses may change slightly from one flu season to another, many people have developed some immunity. Because similar viruses have circulated previously, vaccine is more readily available. In a typical year, approximately 5 to 20 percent of the population gets the seasonal flu. Flu-related deaths range from 3,300 to 48,600 (average 23,600) in the United States. Death usually occurs in young children, elderly adults, and persons with conditions that place them at higher risk for infection.

iv. When will the next pandemic occur?

Influenza pandemics are known to have occurred several times each century since the Middle Ages. There were three influenza pandemics in the 20th century, in 1918, 1957, and 1968. Experts believe we are overdue for the next pandemic flu outbreak.

No one can predict when a pandemic might occur and which strain of flu virus will cause it. The H5N1 avian (bird) influenza and the H1N1 strain that infected many people in 2009 are both being carefully monitored.

v. What age groups are most at risk during a pandemic?

Because the virus strain is new, everyone is at risk. Risk factors can be different than those for seasonal flu. During the last circulation of a new strain in 2009 (H1N1), infants, young adults, pregnant women, and those with existing health problems were at highest risk.

vi. What are the symptoms of pandemic flu?

The symptoms of pandemic flu will be the same as the flu we see every year. Pandemic flu symptoms can come on suddenly and develop with severity over the course of days. Symptoms may include high fever, headache, fatigue, sore throat, runny nose, aches and possibly diarrhea and vomiting.

Emergency Symptoms:
Pandemic Flu Symptoms

In Children

  • Fast breathing or trouble breathing
  • Bluish skin color
  • Not drinking enough fluids
  • Not waking up or not interacting
  • Being so irritable that the child does not want to be held
  • Flu-like symptoms improve but then return with fever and worse cough
  • Fever with a rash

In Adults

  • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
  • Pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen
  • Sudden dizziness
  • Confusion
  • Severe or persistent vomiting
  • Flu-like symptoms improve but then return with fever and worse cough

vii. How does pandemic flu spread?

Pandemic flu spreads the same way seasonal flu does--by sneezing, coughing, close contact with sick persons, and touching something a sick person has touched before you.

Pandemic Flu GermsTo prevent the spread of flu:

  • Wash hands often
  • Don't touch your eyes, mouth, or nose without first washing your hands.
  • Avoid close contact with sick persons
  • Disinfect things that sick persons come into contact with
  • Get a vaccination if available
  • Avoid smoking

viii. How is pandemic flu treated?

There are drugs your doctor may prescribe for treating both seasonal and pandemic flu called "antiviral drugs." These drugs can make you better faster and may also prevent serious complications. Antiviral drugs are being used mainly to treat people who are very sick, such as people who need to be hospitalized, and to treat sick people who are more likely to get serious flu complications. Your health care provider will decide whether antiviral drugs are needed to treat your illness.

ix. Who should I contact for more information?

Your healthcare provider if you are concerned about your safety while sick with the flu.

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