STAYING HEALTHY IN A PANDEMIC
PROTECTING YOURSELF AND YOUR FAMILY
What is pandemic influenza?
Pandemic influenza is an outbreak of flu that spreads around the world, causing widespread illness and death in many countries and continents.
How would a flu outbreak become a pandemic?
The flu spreads from person to person through coughing and/or sneezing. It is also spread through contact with unwashed hands, contaminated surfaces and objects. When a new strain of influenza evolves, people could have very little natural defence against it. This allows the virus to spread more widely, with more serious consequences. With increased ease in global travel, a pandemic is expected to spread around the world rapidly, within weeks to months.
Why is planning for pandemic influenza required?
In the past, pandemics have affected large numbers of people. To help reduce the number of deaths and illnesses and to lessen the harm to society, all levels of government, hospitals, health care agencies and other institutions, and health units will work together. Plans for this effort exist at the international, national, provincial and local level. All the plans are coordinated, so everyone works towards the same goals.
How can it be treated or prevented?
Whether it’s a pandemic or a local outbreak, the flu is treated the same way; with vaccines and increased attention to sanitation, and with antivirals and other drugs to reduce the severity of symptoms.
Is there a vaccine?
We cannot predict what the new virus will look like. This means the development of an effective vaccine cannot begin until the virus has emerged and has been identified. As a result there will be no vaccine available at the outset. Once the new influenza virus is identified, it could take at least 4-6 months for an effective vaccine to be produced. Canada has arrangements in place to quickly produce an effective vaccine should it become necessary. The goal is to produce enough vaccine and administer it as quickly as possible to protect all Canadians.
What other treatment is available?
Some treatments, like antibiotics, deal with complications of influenza, such as pneumonia. You can also take action personally to make sure you and your family are protected. See “Protecting Yourself and Your Family” below.
Antiviral drugs can be used to decrease the severity and shorten the length of an influenza-related illness. Antiviral drugs can also be given to prevent infection when exposure to the virus has occurred or is expected to occur. A national list of priority groups specifies where antivirals will be distributed first.
Why is there a national list of priority groups for antivirals?
The publicly held supply of antiviral drugs may not be sufficient to cover everyone in the province preventively. Thus, antivirals will be distributed to all those who are ill and to those who are in the designated national priority groups. The national priority groups were established based on the importance of people’s work in fighting the pandemic and maintaining services to our society.
PROTECTING YOURSELF AND YOUR FAMILY
Why get a flu shot if it won’t protect against the pandemic flu?
Get your yearly flu shot — this will offer protection against circulating influenza viruses. The flu shot will reduce the risk of you getting the sick from the flu and spreading a flu virus to other people.
What else can a family do to stay protected?
Wash hands frequently and thoroughly with soap and water or use waterless hand antiseptic gels when hands are not visibly dirty. Cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze and wash your hands afterwards.
Do not share personal items, such as towels, eating utensils, etc.
If you are ill, stay at home and isolate yourself from others including your family.
What do I do if a pandemic comes to this area?
Should a pandemic occur, it will be necessary to pay attention to the local media channels (e.g. radio, television, newspaper, internet, etc.) for instructions and/or visit the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit website – www.simcoemuskokahealth.org – for up-to-date information.