A flu pandemic is defined as global flu outbreak. This happens when a virus enters into the human population, and the human body has no immunity against the virus. This results in a person- to-person spread of the virus. Pandemics differ from epidemics which are more seasonal outbreaks. An example of epidemic is the season outbreak of the human influenza virus. Pandemic outbreaks are caused by new subtypes of viruses that are unknown. Pandemics cause economic loss, death, social disruption and high sickness level.
There have three infamous pandemics in the recent human history.
The Spanish Flu is the most infamous one. In 1918 the virus swept across the globe claiming the lives of up to 50 million people. The second pandemic occurred in 1957 and the third pandemic occurred in 1968.
Signs of the Pandemic
The first sign of a Bird Flu Pandemic will be when a large group of people start showing symptoms of the bird flu, in a country where the bird flu is known to exist. This will mean that bird flu is spreading from person to person. A another sign that human to human contact is taking place when health care workers start getting sick themselves. A pandemic can not be stopped but the impact can be reduced by preparing for it.
Preparing for a Flu Pandemic
The World Health Organization has developed a “global influenza preparedness plan”. The plan outlines the stages of the pandemic and outlines the recommendations that the WHO makes for national plans to prepare before and during the pandemic. There are six distinct phases outlined in the plan.
The first three fall under the inter pandemic period. In the first phase, there are no new flu virus subtypes being detected in humans. Subtypes are the viruses that are present in animals. In the second phase there are no new subtypes in humans but the bird flu virus poses a significant risk to the human population.
The second period is the Pandemic alert period.
In the third phase, there is human infection of a new subtype of the flu virus. There is no person to person contact, and very limited disease spread from close human contact. The fourth phase is when a small cluster of the new subtype is spread from person to person by contact. The flu is in this case still limited to a small population. The virus at this stage is not tailored to infect humans. The fifth phase a larger group of people are infected by person to person spread but the virus is still not significantly infectious.
The third period is called the “Pandemic Period”. During this period the new virus in this case H5N1 has evolved and is spreading into the general global population and is infectious.
Even though a pandemic cannot be prevented it is best to prepare for it before hand. Prepare by learning all you can about the virus, knowing your local pandemic preparedness plan, knowing where to go or call incase of any health situation and learning how to care for you or family if you get the bird flu.