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  FYI: Health

Pandemic Influenza Planning: A Guide for Individuals and Families


Get Informed. Be Prepared.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
January 2006

"Pandemics are global in nature, but their impact is local. When the next pandemic strikes, as it surely will, it is likely to touch the lives of every individual, family, and community. Our task is to make sure that when this happens, we will be a Nation prepared."

Mike Leavitt, Secretary
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Pandemic Influenza - Get Informed. Be Prepared.

This guide is designed to help you understand the threat of a pandemic flu outbreak in our country and your community. It describes common sense actions that you can take in preparing for a pandemic. Each individual and family should know both the magnitude of what can happen during a pandemic outbreak and what actions you can take to help lessen the impact of an influenza pandemic on you and your community.

Pandemic Influenza: What I Need to Know

An influenza (flu) pandemic is a widespread outbreak of disease that occurs when a new flu virus appears that people have not been exposed to before. Pandemics are different from seasonal outbreaks of influenza. Seasonal flu outbreaks are caused by viruses that people have already been exposed to; flu shots are available to help prevent widespread illness, and impacts on society are less severe. Pandemic flu spreads easily from person to person and can cause serious illness because people do not have immunity to the new virus.

A pandemic may come and go in waves, each of which can last for months at a time. Everyday life could be disrupted due to people in communities across the country becoming ill at the same time. These disruptions could include everything from school and business closings to interruption of basic services such as public transportation and health care. An especially severe influenza pandemic could lead to high levels of illness, death, social disruption, and economic loss.

Some Differences Between Seasonal Flu and Pandemic Flu

Seasonal Flu

Pandemic Flu

Caused by influenza viruses that are similar to those already affecting people.

Caused by a new influenza virus that people have not been exposed to before. Likely to be more severe, affect more people, and cause more deaths than seasonal flu because people will not have immunity to the new virus.

Symptoms include fever, cough, runny nose, and muscle pain. Deaths can be caused by complications such as pneumonia.

Symptoms similar to the common flu may be more severe and complications more serious.

Healthy adults usually not at risk for serious complications (the very young, the elderly, and those with certain underlying health conditions at increased risk for serious complications).

Healthy adults may be at increased risk for serious complications.

Generally causes modest impact on society (e.g., some school closings, encouragement of people who are sick to stay home).

A severe pandemic could change the patterns of daily life for some time. People may choose to stay home to keep away from others who are sick. Also, people may need to stay home to care for ill family and loved ones. Travel and public gatherings could be limited. Basic services and access to supplies could be disrupted.

A Historical Perspective

In the last century there were three influenza pandemics. All of them were called pandemics because of their worldwide spread and because they were caused by a new influenza virus. The 1918 pandemic was especially severe. The 1968 pandemic (Hong Kong flu) was the least severe, causing about the same number of deaths as the United States experiences every year with seasonal flu.

1918-1919 Most severe, caused at least 500,000 U.S. deaths and up to 40 million deaths worldwide.

1957-1958 Moderately severe, caused at least 70,000 U.S. deaths and 1-2 million deaths worldwide.

1968-1969 Least severe, caused at least 34,000 U.S. deaths and 700,000 deaths worldwide.

Importance and Benefits of Being Prepared

It is difficult to predict when the next influenza pandemic will occur or how severe it will be. The effects of a pandemic can be lessened if preparations are made ahead of time.

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, and so every aspect of society must begin to prepare. State, tribal, and local governments are developing, improving, and testing their plans for an influenza pandemic. Businesses, schools, universities, and other community organizations are preparing plans as well.

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. Many of the state plans and other planning information can be found at

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. For reliable, accurate, and timely information, visit the federal government's official Web site at

The benefits of preparation will be many. States and communities will be better prepared for any disaster. Preparation will bring peace of mind and the confidence that we are ready to fight a flu pandemic.

Read More:

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has released the HHS Pandemic Influenza Plan (see HHS activities detail the medical and public health response to an influenza pandemic.

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Viewed: 8/18/2018 8:46:01 AM
Last Modified: March 23, 2006 9:52 PM
Source: Robert Marston, FYI Section Editor
URLID: 1380

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