A pandemic is a global disease outbreak. A flu pandemic happens when a new influenza virus emerges for which people have little or no immunity, and for which there is no vaccine. The disease spreads easily from one person to another, causes serious illness, and can move across the country and around the world in a very short time.
The spread of avian flu (bird flu) in the past few years has generated concern that it may become the next pandemic virus. At this time avian flu is not easily spread from one person to another, however no one can truly answer the question if this virus will trigger the next pandemic or not.
It is difficult to predict when the next influenza pandemic will occur or how severe it will be; however, no matter where or when a pandemic starts, everyone around the world is at risk. Influenza viruses cause infections of the respiratory tract (breathing tubes and lungs). In some persons, complications of influenza can be severe, including pneumonia.
A Pandemic is Different than Regular Flu Season
A pandemic flu is a new influenza virus that could be a much more serious flu virus than seen in a typical flu season. Different from the typical strains of flu, humans would have little or no natural resistance to a new strain of influenza. Also, there is a vaccine for seasonal flu, which is prepared each season to protect against new variations of the seasonal influenza. There is no vaccine available at this time for a pandemic flu, and it is expected to take at least six months after a pandemic flu appears before a vaccine is developed.
Pandemic Influenza Is Serious
Because most or all people would not have immunity to a new pandemic virus, and large numbers of persons around the world can be infected. If the pandemic virus causes severe disease, many people may develop serious illnesses.
Once a pandemic virus develops, it can spread rapidly, causing outbreaks around the world. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) predicts that as much as 25-30% of the US population could be affected.
Preventing a Pandemic
Boulder County Public Health is working with federal, state, and other local government agencies to be able to respond to pandemic influenza and to maintain essential health care and community services if an outbreak should occur. In fact, governments all around the world are preparing for the possibility of a pandemic outbreak under the leadership of the World Health Organization (WHO).
It is not possible to prevent or stop a pandemic once it begins. A person infected with influenza virus can be contagious for 24 hours before symptoms begin, and for seven days thereafter, making it extremely easy for the virus to spread rapidly to large numbers of people.
Avian Disease Surveillance Underway
Because avian influenza has not yet been identified anywhere in North or South America it is not necessary to test individual sick birds for this disease. In the event that the virus does arrive in the area, Public Health will be focusing on testing birds associated with large die-offs rather than individual birds.