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Pandemic Flu

Pandemic Flu

According to the United States Department of Health and Human Services, a pandemic is a "global disease outbreak." Another way to think of a pandemic is to see it as multiple epidemics occurring simultaneously in different continents.

A Flu Pandemic?

What does a pandemic mean with regard to the flu? Many health organizations around the world, including the World Health Organization, are currently monitoring several strains of the influenza virus, in order to determine if there is a potential for a global outbreak of the flu.

One of the viruses currently being monitored is a strain of the avian flu, also known as the H5N1 Flu Virus. The avian flu is currently transmitted mostly from bird-to-bird and sometimes from bird-to-human, and there have not been any sustained cases of human-to-human transmission of the H5N1 Flu Virus. However, the H5N1 strain of the avian flu does have the potential to mutate into a form of the virus that is easily transmitted between humans. If this were to occur, there is a possibility for the avian flu virus to spread and cause disease in several continents simultaneously . However, it is important to note that there is not a flu pandemic at this time.

What Does This Mean for Me?

Currently, the World Health Organization has designated the H5N1 avian flu as a phase 3 alert, which means that there is "no or very limited human-to-human transmission." Various health organizations are keeping surveillance on this and other strains of the flu, while others are working to develop vaccines that will be effective if a pandemic were to occur.

If the avian flu or another type of flu were to reach pandemic proportions, there are several suggestions to help stop its transmission and keep you healthy. They are:

  1. Social distancing- if a flu pandemic was occurring, one major way of keeping you and your family safe would be to stay away from those who have the flu or may have come in contact with someone who has it. Make sure to keep canned goods, bottled water, medicines, and other dry goods available, so you do not have to leave your house unless necessary.
  2. Washing your hands, coughing into your elbows instead of your hands, and wearing masks are ways of limiting the virus's ability to be transmitted between humans.
  3. Research has suggested that staying at least 6 feet away from someone who may have the flu would be sufficient, if you must leave your home.

Preparation is the key to keeping the avian flu under control. Both schools and the workplace must prepare by developing pandemic flu plans, and possibly policy changes, to accommodate the needs of both those infected with the flu and those who have not contracted the virus.

Useful Resources

For more detailed information about a pandemic flu, please visit these websites:

For information about the avian flu, please visit these websites:

For more information:

Go to the Pandemic Flu health topic, where you can:

This article is a NetWellness exclusive.

Last Reviewed: Jan 31, 2008

John  Andrews, MD, MPH John Andrews, MD, MPH
Assistant Senior Vice President Medical Center
Director University Health Services
University of Cincinnati