Pandemic Flu FAQs
What is UW doing to prepare for a pandemic?
The University of Washington has taken several measures to prepare the campus for a pandemic flu event.
- The UW Advisory Committee on Communicable Diseases (ACCD) comprised of campus experts and key response departments, have begun planning for a pandemic flu event. UW Pandemic Flu Preparedness Plan
- Progress can be viewed UW Pandemic Flu Preparedness Activities based on the CDC’s Guidance document for Colleges and Universities
- UW is providing flu prevention information to students, faculty and staff at campus health facilities and through website.
- UW is collaborating with local, county and state health departments to make pan flu plans consistent.
**What campus offices or departments are involved in preparing for and potentially responding to a pandemic flu event? ** Many departments are participating in pandemic flu preparedness. click here
What is pandemic influenza and why is it so serious?
Influenza viruses cause infections of the respiratory tract (breathing tubes and lungs). In some persons, complications of influenza can be severe, including pneumonia. Pandemic influenza is a global outbreak of disease from a new influenza A virus that is unlike past influenza viruses. Because people have not been infected with a similar virus in the past, most or all people will not have any natural immunity (protection) to a new pandemic virus. Because most or all people would not have immunity to a new pandemic virus, large numbers of persons around the world can be infected. If the pandemic virus causes severe disease, many people may develop serious illnesses. Some of those who develop severe influenza will die. 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% to 30% of the US population could be affected. In King County alone, a severe pandemic flu could make 540,000 people ill, 270,000 would need outpatient care, over 59,000 would need hospitalization, and 11,500 could die.
High levels of illness and death during a pandemic could lead to other forms of social and economic disruption. With so many people in so many places becoming ill, caring for the ill, and looking after their children at home, the available workforce will be reduced. Impacts of a pandemic on everyday life may include school and business closings, the interruption of basic services such as public transportation and food delivery, and cancellation of large public gatherings. (PHSKC)
Is bird flu, avian flu, H1N1 the same thing as a pandemic?
No. Pandemic flu is a global outbreak of human disease. It is caused by a new influenza virus that is unlike any previous flu, so people will not have any natural immunity to it. The lack of immunity means that a pandemic flu can pass readily from person to person, creating widespread illness. Currently, there is no pandemic flu circulating.
Bird flu (or avian influenza) refers to a large group of different influenza viruses that primarily affect birds. On rare occasions, these bird viruses can infect other species, including pigs and humans, but the vast majority of avian flu viruses do not infect people.
The current bird flu outbreak in many parts of the world is caused by a type of influenza virus called “H5N1.” H5N1 is already spreading widely in global bird populations. In a very small number of cases, it has passed from birds to humans—generally through direct contact with infected birds-and in a handful of cases, it has passed from human to human. In the few instances of avian flu in humans, it has been deadly, killing nearly half of those infected. However, H5N1 remains a bird flu because it has not developed the ability to pass easily from person to person. If this change occurs, H5N1 will become a human influenza virus that could start a pandemic-and that’s what worries health experts. (PHSKC)
What are the symptoms of influenza?
Influenza usually starts suddenly and may include the following symptoms:
- Fever (usually high)
- Tiredness (can be extreme)
- Sore throat
- Runny or stuffy nose
- Body aches
- Diarrhea and vomiting (more common among children than adults)
Having these symptoms does not always mean that you have the flu. Many different illnesses, including the common cold, can have similar symptoms.
The reported symptoms of bird flu in humans have ranged from typical influenza-like symptoms (e.g., fever, cough, sore throat, and muscle aches) to eye infections (conjunctivitis), pneumonia, acute respiratory distress, viral pneumonia, and other severe and life-threatening complications. (PHSKC & CDC)
Do I need to be concerned about international travel?
So far, the World Health Organization (WHO) has not issued any travel alerts or advisories for the region in response to the H1N1 outbreak. However, travelers to countries in Asia with documented H5N1 outbreaks are advised to avoid poultry farms, contact with animals in live food markets and any surfaces that appear to be contaminated with feces from poultry or other animals.
What can I do to prepare for a pandemic?
There are several things we can all do to protect ourselves:
- Stay well informed. There is no need to stay awake nights worrying about H1N1 or the next pandemic. But it is important to be well informed about the situation, so that you can be prepared if the situation changes.
- The annual “flu shot” can help prevent disease from flu. Even the “ordinary” flu causes millions of lost work days and about 35,000 deaths annually in the United States. Flu shots can help.
- Take good care of yourself and your family. If you think you or a family member has the flu, stay home and take care of the symptoms (bed rest, lots of fluids, “Tylenol” - not aspirin — for the aches and fevers).
- If there is a heavy flu season, avoid large gatherings or crowds when feasible. And stay away from crowds if you think you have the flu!
- If you need to, call your doctor or usual healthcare provider for help, but DON’T go to the Emergency Room unless absolutely necessary (in a bad flu year, flu patients can flood the hospital and also spread the infection to many other people)
- Cover your coughs and sneezes
- Wash your hands appropriately (before and after preparing food, before eating, after using the bathroom, after touching your nose or coughing). Ordinary soap and water, or alcohol-based hand cleaners, work fine.
- Flu on surfaces is easily killed by detergents, disinfectants, bleach, and other normal household cleansers. (from NCDP Columbia University)
Where can I learn more?
See “Helpful Links” for links to several local, national and international sources of pandemic flu information including details about the virus, history, transmission, spread, implications, news, plans, and more.