What is an Influenza Pandemic?
A pandemic is a global disease outbreak. An influenza pandemic occurs when a new influenza A virus emerges for which there is little or no immunity in the human population, begins to cause serious illness and then spreads easily person-to-person worldwide.
What's the difference between pandemic and seasonal influenza?
Historically, the 20th century saw 3 pandemics of influenza:
- Spanish Flu 1918 influenza pandemic caused up to 40 million deaths worldwide.
- Asian Flu 1957 influenza pandemic caused 1-2 million deaths worldwide.
- Hong Kong Flu 1968 influenza pandemic caused 700,000 deaths worldwide.
Characteristics and challenges of a pandemic:
1. Rapid Worldwide Spread
- When a pandemic influenza virus emerges, its global spread is considered inevitable.
- Preparedness activities should assume that the entire world population would be susceptible.
- Countries might, through measures such as border closures and travel restrictions, delay arrival of the virus, but cannot stop it.
2. Health Care Systems Overloaded
Most people have little or no immunity to a pandemic virus. Infection and illness rates soar. A substantial percentage of the world's population will require some form of medical care.
- Nations will be challenged to keep pace with the staff, facilities, equipment and hospital beds needed to cope with large numbers of people who suddenly fall ill.
- Higher death rates are largely determined by four factors: The number of people who become infected, the virulence of the virus, the underlying characteristics and vulnerability of affected populations and the effectiveness of preventative measures.
- Past pandemics have spread globally in two and sometimes three waves.
3. Medical Supplies Inadequate
- The need for vaccine is likely to outstrip supply. Once influenza type is identified the vaccine is tested, manufactured and distributed.
- The need for antiviral drugs is also likely to be inadequate early in a pandemic.
- A pandemic can create shortages of hospital beds, ventilators and access to other supplies
4. Economic and Social Disruption
- Travel bans, closing of schools and businesses and cancellations of events could have major impact on communities and citizens.
- Care for sick family members and fear of exposure can result in significant worker absenteeism.
Communications and Information are Critical Components of Pandemic Response
Education and outreach and developing a personal plan are critical to preparing for a pandemic. Understanding what a pandemic is, what needs to be done at all levels to prepare for pandemic influenza, and what could happen during a pandemic helps us make informed decisions both as individuals and as a community.