Setting up a Sick Room
Wash hands for 15 seconds with soap and water
Cover a cough or sneeze with tissue
A pandemic is an illness that affects very large numbers of people. It has been described as “an epidemic that is widespread across a country, continent, or a large populace, possibly worldwide.”1 Three recorded influenza pandemics have occurred worldwide (1918, 1957, and 1968). Each was caused by a different influenza virus and transmitted from infected sick people to others, primarily through the air, by coughing and sneezing.2
Historical Influenza PandemicsThe 1918 influenza pandemic is an example of a severe pandemic because of the very high death rate among young adults (ages 24-35) who became sick.3 Almost half of all deaths during the 1918 pandemic were in the young adult age groups.4 This is unusual because most often the very young and the very old have the highest influenza death rates. Worldwide estimates of deaths from the 1918 influenza pandemic ranged from 20 million to more than 50 million deaths5.
In the United States, although approximately 97% of people with “clinically reported illness” eventually recovered from pandemic influenza, more than 600,000 people died. High death rates also occurred among young adults ages 25-35, and especially among pregnant women6.These groups may have been more vulnerable to developing complications from illness caused by a new influenza virus.If an influenza pandemic occurred today, approximately 30% of the United States population (about 100 million people) could become ill.7 It is estimated that some 42 million people might seek medical care, and between 300,000 and 750,000 might need hospitalization. If the pandemic was severe (similar to the 1918 pandemic), almost 2 million people could be expected to die8.
How an Influenza Virus Becomes a PandemicThree conditions are necessary for an influenza virus to produce disease and result in a pandemic. They include:
The Example of Avian Influenza (Bird Flu)Recently, many countries all over the world have been concerned about an infectious disease called avian influenza or bird flu. Avian influenza is caused by the H5N1 virus. The virus has produced illness in wild birds and farm flocks of chickens, ducks, and turkeys on many continents, including Eurasia and Africa. The H5N1 virus that causes bird flu has been transmitted to humans from infected birds in certain situations. Humans have become ill when they were exposed to large amounts of infected bird droppings, bird blood and fluids during butchering, or when they ate raw infected meat or blood products from infected birds.10
The World Health Organization (WHO) has tracked numbers of human cases of avian influenza. The WHO has reported that between 2003 and the end of December 2007, more than 337 people have become extremely sick from bird flu. More than 207 people have died, primarily in Indonesia and Vietnam.11 As of June 19, 2008, 385 cases of avian influenza had occurred in humans, and 243 people have died.12 The WHO is concerned that the H5N1 virus that causes avian influenza could become the next worldwide influenza pandemic.
Pandemic Plans, and Resources
The avian flu outbreak forced governments and organizations around the world into action, stockpiling medicines, researching vaccine development, drafting pandemic plans, and gathering information in order to be better prepared for a health emergency. Below are samples of resources available:
The WHO Epidemic and Pandemic Alert and Response Program website home page can be accessed by going to http://www.who.int/csr/en/. Click on “Diseases” on the left-hand side, then click on the link for “Avian Influenza,” at http://www.who.int/csr/disease/avian_influenza/en/index.html Daily updates are added to the WHO website.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
The HHS also has a link to each of the 50 state pandemic plans. You can obtain your individual state plan by going to: http://www.pandemicflu.gov/plan/states/index.html and clicking on the “Where You Live” link, then clicking on the map for your state. Most state plans have similar sections that include:
3 Knobler, S. L., A. Mack, A. Mahmoud, and S. Lemon, eds. The Threat of Pandemic Influenza: Are We Ready, Institute of Medicine Workshop Summary, 2005. Washington, DC: National Academies Press, 2005. p. 8.
World Health Organization. Avian Influenza. 2008. <http://www.who.int/csr/disease/avian_influenza/en/index.html> accessed 3 Mar. 2008
11 World Health Organization. “Cumulative number of confirmed human cases of Avian Influenza A/(H5N1) reported to WHO, Dec. 9, 2007.” <http://www.who.int/csr/disease/avian_influenza/country/cases_table_2007_12_09/en/index.html>
accessed 3 Mar. 2008
12 World Health Organization. “Cumulative numbers of confirmed cases of Avian Influenza A/(H5N1) reported to WHO June 19, 2008.” <http://www.who.int/csr/disease/avian_influenza/country/cases_table_2008_06_19/en/index.html> accessed 04 Jul 2008