Questions and Answers About Pandemic Influenza
If an influenza pandemic occurs, many people could become sick at the same time and would be unable to go to work. Many would stay at home to care for sick family members. Schools and businesses might close to try to prevent disease spread. Large group gatherings might be canceled. Public transportation might be reduced. Families, communities, schools, and businesses must prepare for pandemic influenza.
City of Berkeley Public Health Division
1947 Center Street, Second Floor, Berkeley, CA 94704
Map to Public Health Division
510-981-5300 (Phone) 510-981-5395 (Fax) 510-981-6903 (TDD)
Monday - Friday: 8:00am - 5:00pm
What is an influenza pandemic?
Is there an influenza pandemic right now?
Isn't there a flu epidemic every year? What is different about a pandemic flu?
Will there be a pandemic soon?
If there is an influenza pandemic, what will happen?
How is the influenza virus spread?
What can I do to protect against pandemic or regular influenza?
How would pandemic flu affect communities and businesses?
How can I help my family be prepared?
Couldn't we just get a flu vaccine if there is a pandemic influenza?
Are there medicines that treat flu?
Will there be enough antiviral medicine and vaccines for everyone if there is a pandemic?
Should families stockpile Tamiflu?
Will a mask protect me from pandemic influenza?
What else can be done to protect people in a pandemic?
Will the government quarantine people in a pandemic?
What is the City of Berkeley doing to prepare for a pandemic influenza?
Where can I get more information about pandemic influenza?
I have more questions. Who can I call?
What is an influenza pandemic? (Top of page)
An influenza pandemic is an outbreak of disease that occurs when there is a new flu virus that can spread from person-to-person. Because a pandemic virus is new, no one has immunity to it, so it spreads quickly around the world. There have been three influenza pandemics in this century - in 1918-19, 1957-58, and 1968-69.
Is there an influenza pandemic right now? (Top of page)
- NO. There is no influenza pandemic in the world right now, although we did have an influenza pandemic in 2009-2010 due to the H1N1 flu virus.
Isn't there a flu epidemic every year? What is different about a pandemic flu? (Top of page)
- Seasonal flu happens every winter. It is caused by a virus that is not very different from other flu viruses that people have been exposed to, so there is some immunity (the body's protection system) to it in the community.
- A pandemic flu virus is so different from other flu viruses that there is no immunity to it.
- A pandemic virus will affect a lot more people, and could make even healthy people very sick.
- About 36,000 people die in the United States each year from seasonal flu. Experts think that many millions of people will die worldwide in a pandemic.
Will there be a pandemic soon? (Top of page)
- No one can predict when the next pandemic will happen. Just like earthquakes. Because we live near big earthquake faults, we know we will have a big earthquake some day. But we don't know when "the big one" will happen, or just how big it will be. We also know that another pandemic will happen; but we can't tell when, or how severe it will be.
If there is an influenza pandemic, what will happen? (Top of page)
- No one knows for sure what will happen if there is another pandemic influenza. In the 1918-19 pandemic, tens of millions of people died around the world. Schools were closed, businesses shut down, people stayed at home, doctors and hospitals were overwhelmed. But in the pandemics of 1957-58 and 1968-69, many Americans were not even aware that there was a pandemic, even though thousands of people died. There is no way to predict how severe the next pandemic will be. But, to be on the safe side, government agencies are preparing for the worst case.
How is influenza virus spread? (Top of page)
- Influenza virus is mainly spread when a sick person coughs or sneezes into the face of another person. It can also spread by touching contaminated surfaces and then touching your face.
What can I do to protect against pandemic or regular influenza? (Top of page)
Get a seasonal flu shot and "WHACK" the flu!
Wash your hands often
Home is where you stay when you are sick
Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth
Cover your coughs and sneezes
Keep your distance from people who are coughing or sneezing
How would pandemic flu affect communities and businesses? (Top of page)
- If an influenza pandemic occurs, many people could become sick at the same time and would be unable to go to work. Many would stay at home to care for sick family members. Schools and businesses might close to try to prevent disease spread. Large group gatherings might be canceled. Public transportation might be reduced. Families, communities, schools, and businesses must prepare for pandemic influenza.
How can I help my family be prepared? (Top of page)
- Keep a supply of two weeks worth of food, water, medicines, and supplies
- Two weeks of food that does not need a refrigerator
- Two weeks of water in sealed containers that cannot break (Plan on 14 gallons of water for each person)
- A two-week supply of ibuprofen or acetaminophen for each person, for fever and pain
- Special liquids for someone who is dehydrated (For example, Pedialyte for children or Gatorade for adults and teens)
- Supply of facemasks and plastic gloves if you are taking care of family members who are sick with the disease
- Disinfectants and chlorine bleach
Couldn't we just get a flu vaccine if there is a pandemic influenza? (Top of page)
- Influenza viruses change very quickly. Each year, manufacturers make a new vaccine, to protect against the specific kind of virus that is spreading around the world. It usually takes about 9 months to make a new vaccine that protects against a new flu virus. That means that there will probably not be any vaccine for a new pandemic influenza virus for at least the first 6 months after a pandemic started.
Are there medicines that treat flu? (Top of page)
- There are several different kinds of medicines that can fight influenza, called "antivirals". One example is Tamiflu. Antiviral medicines have two uses. They can be used to treat people who have influenza, to make the illness less severe and last fewer days. The medicines can also be used to prevent someone from getting influenza even if they have been exposed. This is called "prophylaxis".
Will there be enough antiviral medicine and vaccine for everyone if there is a pandemic? (Top of page)
- In a pandemic, there will not be enough antiviral medicine for everyone to prevent the flu. There may not be enough medicine to treat everyone who gets sick with influenza. There will also not be enough flu vaccine, even after an effective vaccine is developed.
Should families stockpile Tamiflu? (Top of page)
- NO, do not stockpile Tamiflu or other antiviral medicines. If many people get Tamiflu when it is not needed, there is a bigger chance that the virus will become resistant to the medicine and it will not work at all. We are not sure that Tamiflu will work against the particular type of virus that causes a pandemic. You should only take Tamiflu when a health care provider tells you it is the right medicine.
- Federal, state, and local governments are developing plans to distribute vaccines and antivirals in case of pandemic influenza. These plans are designed to make sure that basic services (such as water, sanitation, health care, fire, police) are maintained even if a very large number of people are absent from work, and to make sure that the fewest number of people die from pandemic flu.
Will a mask protect me from pandemic influenza? (Top of page)
- There is not enough information right now to make good scientific recommendations about the use of masks to protect someone from getting influenza.
- In a pandemic, people who are sick should use masks to help protect caretakers from the illness. People who are sick should also use masks if they absolutely must leave their house, to help protect others.
- Hospital and health care workers have a lot of exposure to people who are very sick. They should use a special type of mask called an N-95 respirator.
- N-95 respirators only protect against influenza if they are carefully fitted and properly used.
What else can be done to protect people in a pandemic? (Top of page)
- Government could ask you to try "social distancing" to slow the spread of the pandemic influenza. You could be asked to stay home from work or school, and to stay away from crowded places or groups.
- "Stay at home" days are meant to limit contact between people. If schools or businesses are closed. STAY HOME, and keep your children at home.
Will the government quarantine people in a pandemic? (Top of page)
- Quarantine and isolation are public health actions that are used to stop or slow the spread of a contagious disease. Quarantine and isolation both keep people away from others, in homes, hospitals, or other health care facilities.
- Quarantine is for people who have been exposed to a contagious disease, but are not sick. Sometimes people can be contagious (able to give someone else an illness) even before they feel sick. Quarantine separates the exposed person from other people for the amount of time that it would take to get sick after an exposure.
- Isolation is for people who are already sick and could spread the disease.
- Quarantine and isolation are usually voluntary. Most people want to protect others from getting sick. But government does have the power to make someone stay in isolation and quarantine.
What is the City of Berkeley doing to prepare for a pandemic influenza? (Top of page)
- The City of Berkeley Public Health Division (PHD) has devloped a Pandemic Influenza Plan. The PHD works with health care providers to check for illness in the community so that any case of avian influenza or another new virus could be quickly discovered. The PHD is prepared to respond quickly to outbreaks of infectious disease, and practices this regularly when doctors report cases of other illnesses. The PHD has plans to provide available vaccines and medicines to people in Berkeley. The PHD is working with other public health agencies and health care providers make sure there is healthcare for people who will need it.
Where can I get more information about pandemic influenza? (Top of page)
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
- Alameda County Public Health Department
- California Department of Health Services
- World Health Organization
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