University of Colorado at Boulder Avian Flu/Pandemic Flu Planning
In order for you to understand the risks associated with a possible flu pandemic, it is important to that you recognize the three primary types of flu and understand how they differ from each other.
(The below information is adapted from material gathered from the Centers for Disease Control, www.cdc.gov/flu.)
Seasonal flu is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses that can cause mild to severe symptoms and can sometimes lead to death, generally in the elderly or people with underlying chronic illnesses. Getting a flu vaccination each fall is the best way to prevent this illness.
During an average year in the United States:
How Flu Spreads
Common Flu Symptoms
Certain groups—such as older people, young children, and people with certain health conditions—are at a higher risk for serious flu complications.
Avian (or bird) flu is caused by influenza viruses that occur naturally among wild birds. The H5N1 variant, one strain of the bird flu, is deadly to domestic fowl and can be transmitted from birds to humans, though the risk is generally low to most people. Several species of wild fowl can harbor this virus without showing signs of illness. Confirmed cases of avian flu infection in humans have been reported since 1997, and the H5N1 flu in humans can currently be found in much of Asia and has spread to Europe. There is no human immunity and no vaccine is available, however vaccine development efforts are underway.
Avian H5N1 flu in humans is currently very limited and NOT a pandemic. However, it is uncertain whether the currently circulating H5N1 virus will lead to a global disease outbreak in humans.
See www.pandemicflu.gov/#map for a map showing the nations with confirmed human cases and the number of cases.
How the Bird Flu Spreads
The spread of avian influenza viruses from one ill person to another has been reported very rarely, and transmission has not been observed to continue beyond one person. Because all influenza viruses have the ability to change, scientists are concerned that the H5N1 virus could one day easily infect humans and spread easily from one person to another.
More than half of the humans who have sought health care because of H5N1 infections with bird flu have died. It is unclear how many people have been infected but have not developed severe symptoms.
Symptoms of Bird Flu
A pandemic is a global disease outbreak. A flu pandemic occurs when a new influenza virus emerges for which people have little or no immunity, and for which there is no vaccine. A pandemic disease spreads easily from person to person, causes serious illness, and can sweep across the country and around the world in a very short time. Currently, there is no pandemic flu, as the avian flu is not spreading among humans easily.
The world is presently in phase three: a new influenza virus (avian flu) is causing disease in humans, but is not yet spreading rapidly among humans.
No one can predict when a pandemic might occur. However, experts from around the world are watching the avian flu in Asia and Europe very closely and are preparing for the possibility that the virus may begin to spread more easily and widely from person to person.
Wherever and whenever a pandemic starts, everyone around the world is at risk. Countries might delay arrival of the virus through measures such as border closures and travel restrictions, but they cannot stop it.
Impact of a Pandemic
An especially severe influenza pandemic could lead to high levels of illness, death, social disruption, and economic loss. Everyday life would be disrupted because so many people in so many places become seriously ill at the same time. Impacts can range from school and business closings to the interruption of basic services such as public transportation and food delivery.
Health care facilities can be overwhelmed, creating a shortage of hospital staff, beds, ventilators and other supplies. The need for vaccine is likely to outstrip supply, and the supply of antiviral drugs also is likely to be inadequate early in a pandemic. Difficult decisions will need to be made regarding who gets antiviral drugs and vaccines.
Historically, the 20th century experienced three influenza