DIVISION OF HEALTH PROTECTION

Pandemic Influenza

 

 

 

 

 
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



General Information

 

 A pandemic is a disease outbreak that occurs on a global scale.  Influenza, or flu, viruses that have never before been able to infect humans can change, or mutate, and are one possible cause of a pandemic.  Currently, people can be infected by existing “human” flu strains, but if changes occur in other flu strains that have not previously infected people, there will be little or no immunity to that flu strain.  If this occurs, a flu pandemic will be underway.  

There are countless types of flu viruses, some that are harmless and others that are very bad for people.  The flu virus is a tiny organism consisting of a small amount of genetic material (RNA) and coated with two proteins (hemagglutinin and neuraminidase) commonly referred to as H and N.  H’s look like a small spike on the surface of the flu virus, while N’s look like a mushroom.  There are at least 15 different types of H and at least nine types of N, and these proteins characterize the flu virus.  Currently, humans have some natural defense against strains of the flu that have previously infected us.  These are forms of the H1N1, H1N2 and the H3N2 influenza A strains.  Scientists can also create vaccines to help further protect us against these flu bugs.  However, new strains that have previously only been found in birds, may be able to change and begin infecting people.  The H5N1 bird flu is one that appears to be trying to do this, but other “bird flu’s” such as H7N7 also exist and could cause the next pandemic. 

 

 

 

 


In 1918, a flu virus that had never previously been able to infect humans changed from a bird flu to a human flu and caused a worldwide pandemic.  This virus, which scientists now believe to be an H1N1, was commonly called the Spanish flu.  Between 1918 and 1919, the Spanish flu caused between 20 and 50 million deaths in the world.  Other pandemics have caused human loss as well.  In 1957, the Asian flu (H1N2) killed between 1 and 2 million people worldwide and in 1968, the Hong Kong flu (H3N2) killed nearly 1 million people. 

    There is no way of knowing when, or even if, a mutation of the H5N1 flu or another avian flu will happen.  Nor is there any way to predict how severe it will be.  The H5N1 avian flu has infected a limited number of people in Asia .  These people have had close contact with chickens or other birds that were ill with the virus.  There has not been any sustained passing of the virus from an infected person other people at this time.  However, if the virus mutates into a form that can be passed from person to person, it may cause the next flu pandemic.  Health professionals are concerned about H5N1 for a number of reasons.  First, it appears to be very deadly in the people that it has infected.  Second, it is not only carried in chickens, but also in fowl and migratory birds.  Finally, it is continually changing (as are all flu virus types, through a process known as “drift”), and it could ultimately change into a “human” flu.

Since H5N1 is constantly changing, scientists are not able to create a vaccine for it yet.  They can’t create the vaccine until the virus has changed into a form that can be passed around in people.  If that occurs, it will take at least six months to prepare vaccines for distribution to health departments and doctors.  That is why we are preparing now.  People must not rely on medication to protect them from the flu in the early stages of a pandemic.  Instead, they should become personally prepared by staying healthy and staying informed (see the personal preparedness section for more information).

Frequently Asked Questions

After viewing an answer, click the Back to Questions

link to return to the questions list.

 

1)      What is a pandemic?

2)      Is there currently a pandemic? 

3)      When do scientists think a pandemic flu will happen?

4)      What is the bird flu I have been hearing all about?

5)      What is the difference between a pandemic flu and regular flu?

6)      I’m feeling sick, so should I ask my doctor to test me for the bird flu virus?

7)      I keep reading that there is no pandemic, but I also hear that people have died from  

      bird flu.  What is going on?

8)      Can a regular flu shot protect me from a pandemic flu?

9)      What can I do to protect myself against pandemic flu?

10)  Why does it take so long for scientists to make a vaccine for pandemic flu?

11)  Can I get vaccinated against bird flu?

12)  I have been hearing about Tamiflu, what’s it do?

13)  Is it safe to eat chicken, poultry and eggs?

14)  Can I eat raw or undercooked eggs?

15)  I have a bird feeder in my yard, is that okay?

16)  Can my pet get bird flu?

17)  I have a chicken coop.  What should I do?

18)  What if I find a dead bird in my yard?

19)  What are scientists doing to monitor for bird flu in the US ?

20)  I am thinking about traveling to a foreign country.  Where should I avoid going?

21)  What wild birds might be carriers of bird flu?

22)  Why are pandemics such dreaded events?

23)  I’m young and healthy, do I really need to worry if a pandemic happens?

24)  What is the government doing to prepare?

25)  I go hunting for migratory birds, what precautions should I take?

 

If you have viewed all of the FAQs above and your question is not yet answered, call or email the Adams County Health Department, or follow the links to other sources of information such as the Illinois Department of Public Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

 

What is a pandemic?

·        According to the CDC, Pandemic flu “is virulent human flu that causes a global outbreak, or pandemic, of serious illness.”  Pandemic flu’s begin because a new type of flu virus that has previously never been able to infect people has changed in a way that allows people to become infected and to pass their infection to others through respiratory secretions (by sneezing, coughing, or not washing hands, for example).  Back to Questions

 

 

 


 

Is there currently a pandemic? 

·        NO – There is not currently a pandemic.  Back to Questions

 

When do scientists think a pandemic flu will happen?

·        Many scientists believe it is only a matter of time before the next flu pandemic occurs.  Other scientists are not so sure.  Historically, there were three flu pandemics during the twentieth century (1918, 1957 and 1968).  However, it is impossible to predict when the next pandemic will occur.  It is also impossible to predict how severe the next pandemic will be.  Therefore, all we can do as individuals and as a society is become prepared if it does happen.  Back to Questions

 

What is the bird flu I have been hearing all about?

·        Most likely, the bird flu (or avian flu) you have been hearing about is the H5N1 variety.  Most scientists believe that most influenza A viruses originated in birds, and the seasonal flu bugs that we get may have once been just other varieties of bird flu that changed into a form that could infect humans.  The H5N1 variety of bird flu you have been hearing about is only one of many types of bird flu that exist.  Others include the H7N7 and the H9N2 varieties.  Any one of these varieties of avian flu could ultimately mutate into a form that could cause the next human flu pandemic.  Back to Questions

 

What is the difference between a pandemic flu and regular flu?

·        A pandemic flu virus is one that has never before infected humans.  Therefore, we have little or no natural resistance against it.  It is much more severe than seasonal flu because our bodies don’t know how to defend against the new flu infection.  Also, since seasonal flu already exists, scientists can make a vaccine for it.  There is no vaccine available for a pandemic flu.  For a comprehensive list of differences between seasonal and pandemic flu, click here.   Back to Questions

 

I’m feeling sick, so should I ask my doctor to test me for the bird flu virus?

·        Only if you have recently returned from one of the countries where bird flu has been identified.  Depending on where you traveled, what activities you did in the foreign country, and your symptoms, additional testing may be recommended.  You should let your doctor know about your travel history and if you had any contact with poultry or bird markets in a foreign country.  For a current listing of countries where H5N1 bird flu has been found, click here. For more information on foreign travel preparation, click here.  Back to Questions

 

 

I keep reading that there is no pandemic, but I also hear that people have died from bird flu.  What is going on?

·        Both statements are true.  Bird flu has infected and killed people, but there is no pandemic at this time.  Currently, people in some Asian countries that have had very close contact with infected chickens or other birds have become infected directly from the bird.  Many of these people have died.  However, the bird flu virus that they died from was unable to be given by the infected person to other people. A pandemic will only happen once a bird flu virus has mutated into a variety that can be passed from person to person.  Back to Questions

 

Can a regular flu shot protect me from a pandemic flu?

·        NO - flu vaccines only provide protection against flu viruses closely related to the vaccine strains. Current seasonal flu vaccines include H3N2 and H1N1 flu viruses. A vaccine made from these viruses would not provide protection from possible pandemic flu viruses such as the H5N1 type.  Back to Questions

 

What can I do to protect myself against pandemic flu?

·        There are a number of things you should do to prepare for a pandemic.  These include:

o       Store a 2-week supply of non-perishable food and water.

o       Keep adequate prescription and non-prescription medications at home.

o       Discuss plans for communication and behavior with your family.

o       Practice good hygiene by washing hands, covering sneezes and coughs, and otherwise limiting the spread of germs.

o       Stay healthy by exercising and eating well.

   Back to Questions

 

Why does it take so long for scientists to make a vaccine for pandemic flu?

·        First, it is impossible for scientists to make a vaccine for pandemic flu until the flu virus that will cause the pandemic exists.  This will not happen unless H5N1 or another avian flu strain changes into a form that can be passed from person-to-person.  Once that occurs, scientists must isolate the flu strain, inject it into millions of chicken eggs, let the virus grow in the eggs, and then take it back out of the eggs and kill it.  With the dead virus, scientists can then make vaccine.  This process takes at least 6 months.  Back to Questions

 

Can I get vaccinated against bird flu?

·        You cannot get vaccinated against bird flu at this time.  If you have heard that a bird flu vaccine exists, you are probably hearing about the vaccine that has been created to vaccinate chickens and other birds from avian flu.  Since the bird flu does not exist in a form that can pass from person-to-person, a vaccine cannot yet be made.  Back to Questions

 

I have been hearing about Tamiflu, what’s it do?

·        Tamiflu (Oseltamivir) is what we call an anti-viral medication.  It can help to “block” the neuraminidase (the N protein in the H5N1 or other flu viruses) from attaching to a host cell in people.  If the N protein cannot attach to our cells, the flu will have a harder time infecting us.  However, Tamiflu and other neuraminidase blockers and other hemagglutinin blockers should only be taken as recommended by your doctor.  They can only treat the flu, not prevent it.  Using antivirals before the appearance of the symptoms may even be counterproductive as the flu may then develop resistance against the antiviral.  It is not recommended that these medications be stockpiled as part of a personal preparedness kit.  Back to Questions

 

Is it safe to eat chicken, poultry and eggs?

·        According to the federal government, “There is no evidence that properly cooked poultry can be a source of infection for avian influenza viruses. Furthermore, the likelihood of infected poultry entering the U.S. food supply is extremely low due to import restrictions, extensive avian influenza testing programs, and federal inspection programs. Even if it did, properly prepared and cooked poultry is safe to eat. Cooking poultry to an internal temperature of 165 ˚F kills the avian influenza virus as it does other bacteria and viruses. While most human illnesses have resulted from direct contact with sick or dead birds, a small number have resulted from eating raw poultry or poultry products so proper cooking is important if there is a concern that the avian influenza virus might be present. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) advises that cooking poultry to the proper temperature and preventing cross-contamination between raw and cooked food is the key to food safety.”   Back to Questions

 

Can I eat raw or undercooked eggs?

·        You should never eat raw or undercooked eggs or meat. For protection against many types of food borne illnesses such as Salmonella, all chicken and eggs should be cooked to 165° F or hotter.  In the event that a chicken or an egg contained a flu virus, cooking would also destroy the virus.  Remember, raw or undercooked eggs in raw cookie dough, homemade mayonnaise or other foods should also be avoided.  Back to Questions

 

I have a bird feeder in my yard, is that okay?

·        It is perfectly safe to have a bird feeder in your yard.  You should wear protective gloves when cleaning or refilling feeders to avoid bird droppings, which can be contaminated with various germs.  You should also wash your hands after handling these items.  Back to Questions

 

Can my pet get bird flu?

·        In the United States , the H5N1 virus has not yet been detected, so your pets should not be at risk.  There have been reports regarding a cat, a dog and other mammals that became infected with the virus in Asia .  Scientists believe that the animals are infected by inhaling virus that is lodged in the infected birds feathers.  Having pet birds continues to be safe as well, because the federal government has banned the import of birds from countries known to have H5N1 flu.  However, you should ensure that a new exotic pet bird was legally imported prior to purchasing it as a pet.   Back to Questions

 

I have a chicken coop.  What should I do?

·        It is safe to have flocks of chickens.  However, you should practice good sanitation and reduce exposure to wild birds.  This will help to ensure that your flock remains healthy.  More detailed information may be found by clicking here.  Back to Questions

 

What if I find a dead bird in my yard?

·        Adams County Health Department participates in the Illinois Department of Public Health’s West Nile Virus Surveillance Program, and you can report dead birds (particularly blue jays and crows) to the Health Department (222-8440) between the months of May and September.  Currently, the H5N1 bird flu has not been found in the United States , so you should not be alarmed if you find a dead or dying bird in your yard.  Back to Questions

 

What are scientists doing to monitor for bird flu in the US ?

·        According to the US Department of Health and Human Services, “The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), in collaboration with state fish and wildlife agencies, are strategically sampling migratory birds for H5N1 in Alaska , elsewhere in the Pacific Flyway, and on the Pacific Islands . These efforts complement wild bird surveillance being conducted throughout the U.S. by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and other cooperating agencies and groups.”  You may click here  to view migratory bird paths in the United States or click here  to view more information about avian influenza in wild bird populations. Back to Questions

 

I am thinking about traveling to a foreign country.  Where should I avoid going?

·        Travelers are not considered at higher risk if they travel to countries where H5N1 avian flu exists as long as they take precautions to avoid high risk areas (e.g. poultry markets).  If you plan to travel to a foreign county where the H5N1 avian flu has been found (click here  for a list of those countries), you should take precautions, including:

o       Avoid contact with live poultry and wild birds

o       Avoid poultry markets and farms or other areas where there are slaughtered birds

o       Avoid areas that are contaminated with bird droppings

o       Do not handle or eat uncooked or undercooked poultry, fowl, or eggs

o       Practice good hygiene, including frequent and thorough handwashing

·        More information on avian influenza as it relates to foreign travel may be found by clicking here.  For general information on the Adams County Health Department’s Foreign Travel program, click here  Back to Questions

 

What wild birds might be carriers of bird flu?

·        According to the USGS, “most avian influenza viruses have been isolated from wild waterfowl (ducks, geese, and swans) and shorebirds (wading birds), gulls, and terns.”   Back to Questions

 

Why are pandemics such dreaded events?

        In the case of a flu pandemic, people are being infected with a virus that their bodies have never before been infected with.  Therefore, their bodies do not know how to fight the virus.  The virus can then multiply within the lungs and respiratory tracts of the infected people, ultimately overwhelming their bodies and causing severe illness or death.  Pandemics are global events, and they impact not only people on an individual level, but also disrupt economies, social events, public services, and our ability to safely socialize within our communities.   Back to Questions

 

 

 

 


 

I’m young and healthy, do I really need to worry if a pandemic happens?

·        Yes, you need to make the same preparations and precautions as everyone else in the community.  In fact, scientists studying the 1918 Spanish flu have seen overwhelming evidence that the Spanish flu virus had its most severe effect on the young and healthy.  That flu may have originated in army camps in the United States or Europe , and it killed more 18 year and older soldiers in one year than casualties from WWI did in the same time frame.  There was also a large increase in young orphans, because their otherwise healthy parents had become ill and died from the Spanish flu.  We have no way of knowing what the impacts of a new pandemic flu will be, nor what segment of the population it will impact the most.  However, don’t think that since you are young and in good health you don’t have to be prepared and take the same precautions as the elderly or young children.

 

 

 

 

 


  Back to Questions

 

What is the government doing to prepare?

  • The US Government has spent hundreds of millions of dollars in preparation for pandemic flu.  This includes the development of a National Strategy to respond to a pandemic flu crisis.  State governments are using federal and state money to develop individual preparedness and response plans.  In turn, local county governments are now preparing plans to respond to a pandemic flu in the community.  The Adams County Health Department already has plans in place that address disease outbreaks in general terms, and we are currently refining those plans to include pandemic influenza.  We have checklists that identify specific activities that we can do to prepare now.  Each checklist includes action steps to:

 

                     Plan for the impact on organizations and their operations

                     Plan for impact on people involved with organizations

                     Establish policies to maximize infection control

                     Allocate resources to protect health and safety

                     Communicate and educate people

                     Coordinate with external organizations, including emergency management, health care, public safety, and businesses.

 

At this point, while the health department and others are preparing for ways to care for the public, it is very important for the public to take some responsibility and prepare themselves.  Click here (link to personal preparedness page) to view resources that will help you to become personally prepared for pandemic flu and other emergencies.  Back to Questions

 

 

I go hunting for migratory birds, what precautions should I take?

·        Currently, highly pathogenic H5N1 flu is not present in North America , so hunters should be at no higher risk than others.  However, migratory birds that carry the virus may ultimately migrate into the U.S.   Therefore, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recommends that hunters that touch wild migratory birds disinfect their hands immediately after bird handling and before eating, drinking, smoking or rubbing their eyes, noses or mouths.  Common alcohol-based hand sanitizers will inactivate flu viruses, and should be carried afield with hunters for use after retrieving birds.  The Fish and Wildlife Service also recommends that hunters always follow common-sense sanitary practices when handling, cleaning, and preparing wild birds, including being sure to sanitize knives, other cleaning tools, and food preparation surfaces.   Back to Questions

 

 

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