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Flu Pandemics FAQ

What is the difference between an epidemic and a pandemic?

A pandemic is a disease outbreak that occurs worldwide, whereas an epidemic is a disease outbreak that occurs in one area or region.

How does seasonal flu differ from pandemic flu?

The seasonal flu typically occurs every year around winter time. Because the seasonal flu is usually similar to a previous flu virus, people have some immunity to it because they have been exposed to it before and a vaccine is available. Pandemic flu on the other hand, is virus that people have not been exposed to and as a result, would become sick very easily. Also, vaccine for pandemic flu will not be available until 6-8 months after the pandemic begins.

What can I do to prepare for pandemic flu?

The federal government has made various planning checklists for individuals and families and other types of organizations, to help guide them in preparing. Visit the official U.S. website at www.pandemicflu.gov for these important tools.

What is the government doing to prepare for pandemic flu?

The U.S. federal government has been working with other countries around the world to plan and prepare for pandemic flu by improving outbreak detection systems and helping to guide state and local governments’ planning efforts.

How many people are predicted to be hospitalized or even die in the U.S., if a pandemic were to come?

It is difficult to estimate the impact of a pandemic because it is based on many unknown things such as how strong the disease is, the number of people that become sick, and measures that can help stop the spread of the disease. If we had a pandemic as severe as the 1918 one, there could be as many as 9 million hospitalizations and 1 million deaths in the U.S.

How many people die annually from normal seasonal flu?

Approximately 36,000 people die each year from the annual flu in the U.S.

Why should we be concerned about avian influenza/bird flu?

The H5N1 avian influenza outbreak in birds that people are concerned about can spread from birds to humans and cause sickness and even death. So far, the virus has been spread mostly from birds to humans. But viruses can change and if it develops the ability to spread easily from person to person, then people would have very little immunity to it and would likely become sick.

How is avian (bird) flu spread to people?

Birds carry avian influenza in their intestines and can spread it through body fluids such as saliva and feces. Other birds can become infected when they come into contact with these fluids and people can become infected when they come into contact with these fluids or infected poultry such as domestic chickens and turkeys. So far, there are no human cases of H5N1 avian influenza anywhere in the U.S. or in North America. There are also no cases of people becoming infected with avian influenza from wild birds.

Can H5N1 be spread from person to person?

At this time, H5N1 cannot spread easily from person to person. However, viruses can change and make it easier to spread between people. If this happens, it will be very important for people to follow public health guidelines.

How is avian influenza in humans treated?

At this time, there is no commercially available vaccine to prevent H5N1 influenza. Healthcare providers will tell people how to treat their illness depending on their symptoms and the virus.

Is it safe to eat chicken or turkey?

It is safe to eat fully cooked poultry. General precautions should always be taken when handling any type of raw meat and raw eggs, such as: washing hands and surfaces before and after preparing food, not using the same utensils for raw meat and other foods including cooked meat, and always cooking meat completely.

What should I do if I am traveling to countries with reported avian influenza?

Make sure to visit the travel section of www.pandemicflu.gov for precautions to take before and after visiting an area that has H5N1 avian influenza cases.

Is avian influenza/bird flu in the U.S.?

So far there are no cases of the highly pathogenic H5N1 avian influenza anywhere in the U.S.

How do I report a sick or dead bird?

To report a sick bird, please contact your local humane society. For information on how to report a dead bird to the health department, click here.

Will masks protect me?

There is a lot of confusing information available about masks. The first thing to understand is that there are actually two different pieces of equipment: masks and respirators. Masks are loose-fitting facemasks that cover the nose and mouth. They are sometimes referred to as surgical masks. Respirators are a piece of equipment that fits tightly over the face and that help filter out very small particles. They are sometimes referred to as being rated “N95 or higher”. Healthcare workers often wear respirators to help protect them from people with diseases. Both masks and respirators are usually worn only once and then thrown away. Right now, N95 respirators are recommended for healthcare workers taking care of infected people, along with wearing gowns and gloves. Masks are recommended for infected patients to help cover their noses and mouths when they sneeze and cough.

What information is available about wearing masks during a pandemic?

Using masks and respirators in a healthcare setting is just one part of helping to control the spread of a pandemic. Other things should be done all the time such as covering your coughs and sneezes and washing your hands. Right now there is limited information about the benefit of wearing masks in places outside of healthcare settings, such as at work and in the community. For the most updated information regarding the use of masks and respirators, visit www.pandemicflu.gov.

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