To learn more about Pandemic Flu, how to prepare, and what Virginia is doing to address the threat, watch “Video Guide to Pandemic Preparedness and Response in Virginia” on RVTV Channel 3, the Roanoke Valley's local government and educational access channel. To check specific viewing times, visit www.rvtv.org and click on “Program Schedule.”
What is Pandemic Influenza?
Influenza, or flu, is a viral infection of the lungs. There are two main types of flu virus, A and B. Each type includes many different strains and new strains emerge periodically. Flu outbreaks occur most often in late fall and winter.
Pandemic flu is a global outbreak of disease that occurs when a new influenza A virus appears in humans, causes serious illness and then spreads easily from person to person worldwide.
When is the next flu pandemic expected?
Three pandemics occurred in the 20th century, all of which spread around the world within one year of being detected. Of these, the pandemic of 1918-1919 was the most severe, with 50 million or more deaths worldwide.
No one can predict when a pandemic might occur, but many scientists believe it is only a matter of time before the next one arises. Experts from around the world are watching the H5N1 Avian (bird) Flu situation in the Middle East, Europe and Asia very closely and are preparing for the possibility that the virus may begin to spread more easily and widely from person to person.
What risks do Virginians face if there is a pandemic of flu?
If a new and severe strain of flu were to begin spreading across the globe, Virginia would not be spared from its impact. The severity of the next pandemic cannot be predicted, but modeling studies suggest that its effect in the United States could be severe. In the absence of any control measures (vaccination or drugs), it has been estimated that in the United States a “medium–level” pandemic could cause:
In Virginia, pandemic flu impact estimates include:
- 89,000 to 207,000 deaths
- 314,000 and 734,000 hospitalizations
- 18 to 42 million outpatient visits
- 20 to 47 million people becoming sick
- An economic impact ranging between $71.3 and $166.5 billion
Flu pandemics are different from many of the threats for which public health and the health-care system are currently planning:
- 2,700 to 6,300 deaths
- 12,000 to 28,500 hospitalizations
- 575,000 to 1.35 million outpatient visits
- 1.08 million to 2.52 million people becoming sick
- The pandemic will last much longer than most other emergency events and may include waves of flu activity separated by months (in 20th century pandemics, a second wave of flu activity occurred three to 12 months after the first wave).
- The numbers of health-care workers and first responders available to work can be expected to be reduced as they will be at high risk of illness through exposure in the community and in health care settings, and some may have to miss work to care for ill family members.
- Resources in many locations could be limited because of how widespread a flu pandemic would be.