What you need to know
An influenza (flu) pandemic is a worldwide outbreak of flu disease that occurs when a new type of influenza virus appears that people have not been exposed to before (or have not been exposed to in a long time). The pandemic virus can cause serious illness because people do not have immunity to the new virus. Pandemics are different from seasonal outbreaks of influenza that we see every year. Seasonal influenza is caused by influenza virus types to which people have already been exposed. Its impact on society is less severe than a pandemic, and influenza vaccines (flu shots and nasal-spray vaccine) are available to help prevent widespread illness from seasonal flu.
Influenza pandemics are different from many of the other major public health and health care threats facing our country and the world. A pandemic will last much longer than most flu outbreaks and may include "waves" of influenza activity that last 6-8 weeks separated by months. The number of health care workers and first responders able to work may be reduced. Public health officials will not know how severe a pandemic will be until it begins.
Importance and Benefits of Being Prepared
- The effects of a pandemic can be lessened if you prepare ahead of time. Preparing for a disaster will help bring peace of mind and confidence to deal with a pandemic.
- When a pandemic starts, everyone around the world could be at risk. The United States has been working closely with other countries and the World Health Organization (WHO) to strengthen systems to detect outbreaks of influenza that might cause a pandemic.
- A pandemic would touch every aspect of society, so every part of society must begin to prepare. All have roles in the event of a pandemic. Federal, state, tribal, and local governments are developing, improving, and testing their plans for an influenza pandemic. Businesses, schools, universities, and other faith-based and community organizations are also preparing plans.
- As you begin your individual or family planning, you may want to review your state's planning efforts and those of your local public health and emergency preparedness officials. State plans and other planning information can be found at http://www.flu.gov/professional/checklists.html.
- The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and other federal agencies are providing funding, advice, and other support to your state. The federal government will provide up-to-date information and guidance to the public if an influenza pandemic unfolds.
Pandemic Flu Resources
There are many publicly available resources in place to help communities, companies, and individuals plan for a possible pandemic flu outbreak. A few of the most useful sites are linked below:
- Pandemicflu.gov -This is the official U.S. Government site for information on pandemic and avian influenza. The material on this site is organized by topic for easy reference.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) -- The CDC Web site is another primary source of information on pandemic influenza. They also have a hotline—1-800-CDC-INFO (1-800-232-4636)—that is available in English and Spanish, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week (TTY: 1-888-232-6348). Or, if you prefer, questions can be e-mailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Department of Homeland Security (DHS) - DHS is working on a “Business Planning Guide,” which will be posted on the DHS home page and on Pandemicflu.gov as soon as it is completed. Also, for business-specific questions, the DHS has created an e-mailbox - DHSPandemic@dhs.gov.
The resources above will provide a lot of information, but we also encourage you to:
- Listen to local and national radio
- Watch news reports on television
- Read your newspaper and other sources of printed and Web-based information
- Look for information on your local and state government Web sites
- Consider talking to your local health care providers and public health officials.