Why prepare for a flu pandemic?
| Influenza pandemics are remarkable events that can rapidly infect virtually all countries. Once international spread begins, pandemics are considered unstoppable, because the virus spreads very rapidly by coughing or sneezing. The fact that infected people can share the virus before symptoms appear adds to the risk of international spread via travelers. |
The severity of disease and the number of deaths caused by a pandemic virus vary greatly, and cannot be known prior to the emergence of the virus. During past pandemics, attack rates reached 25-35% of the total population. Under the best circumstances, assuming that the new virus causes mild disease, the world could still experience an estimated 2 million to 7.4 million deaths (projected from data obtained during the 1957 pandemic). Projections for a more virulent virus are much higher. The 1918 pandemic, which was uniquely severe, killed at least 40 million people. In the US, the mortality rate of people infected with the virus during that pandemic was around 2.5%.
During a severe pandemic, such as the one that occurred in 1918, there would be large surges in the numbers of people requiring or seeking medical or hospital treatment, temporarily overwhelming health services. High rates of worker absenteeism could also interrupt other essential services, such as law enforcement, transportation, and communications. Because populations will be fully susceptible to a pandemic virus, rates of illness could peak fairly rapidly within a given community. This means that local social and economic disruptions may be temporary. They may, however, be amplified in todayâ€™s closely interrelated and interdependent systems of trade and commerce.
As all countries are likely to experience emergency conditions during a pandemic, opportunities for inter-country assistance, as seen during natural disasters or localized disease outbreaks, may be curtailed once international spread has begun and governments focus on protecting domestic populations.
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