What is pandemic influenza?

Pandemic influenza is a worldwide outbreak of influenza that occurs when a new strain of influenza virus appears in people and rapidly spreads globally, possibly reaching all continents within three months. There have been three pandemics in the previous century. The Spanish influenza pandemic of 1918 killed as many as 40 million people worldwide. More recent pandemics have occurred in 1957 and 1968. Experts predict that the world may be on the verge of another pandemic.

How is influenza spread?

Influenza is a severe respiratory illness caused by the influenza virus. It is spread easily from person to person through coughing, sneezing, or through contact with unwashed hands. Symptoms include fever, headache,
extreme tiredness, cough, sore throat, and muscle aches.

How is avian influenza different?

Avian influenza refers to a large group of influenza viruses that primarily affect birds. On rare occasions, these bird viruses can infect other species, including humans. Health experts have been monitoring a new avian influenza virus – an H5N1 strain – for several years.s

What will the impact of pandemic influenza be?

The human immune system will have no pre-existing immunity as the virus is new. As a result, persons of all ages will be at risk of infection and widespread illness will occur. It is predicted that 35% of the community may be affected at any one point in time. These expected high rates of illness and worker absenteeism will contribute to social and economic disruption. Businesses will be impacted and health systems will be overwhelmed.

What can you do to avoid influenza and reduce the spread of infection?

  • Wash your hands frequently and thoroughly with
    soap and warm water.

  • Get your annual influenza vaccination.
  • Cover your nose and mouth if you cough or sneeze.
  • Stay home and rest if you are sick.

Will a vaccine and antiviral medication be available during a pandemic?

Supplies of vaccine and antiviral drugs will be inadequate in all countries at the start of a pandemic and for many months thereafter.

What is the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority (WRHA) doing to prepare for pandemic influenza?

The WRHA is planning in partnership with municipalities, the Province of Manitoba, and other organizations, agencies and individuals. Our goal is to minimize serious illness and death and to ease social and economic disruption that will occur as a result of an influenza pandemic.

For further information call Health Links - Info Santé at 788-8200. Registered nurses are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to answer your questions.

Download Facts about Pandemic Influenza

Download our Weekly Influenza Update to read about current influenza activity in Winnipeg, Manitoba, and around the world.

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