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Background - What is a pandemic?

An influenza pandemic may occur when a new virulent influenza ("flu") virus emerges that can easily infect humans, and against which people have little or no immunity.  It would have far more serious health effects than the typical flu seen each season since people would have little or no natural resistance to the new virus.

What can you do to prepare?

Influenza is a significant respiratory disease in humans, and for this reason you are encouraged to get your influenza vaccine every year to help protect yourself and others.  In addition to a vaccine, there are simple health protection measures that you can use to protect yourself and other from influenza (annual or pandemic).  These include:

  • Washing your hands often or using a gel or alcohol-based hand sanitizer
  • Covering your mouth and nose with tissue when coughing and sneezing or cough/sneeze into your arm
  • Avoiding touching your eyes, nose and mouth
  • Staying home when you are sick with flu symptoms, which can include fever, headache, aches and pains, extreme fatigue, sneezing, coughing, sore throat, chest congestion.

What will happen during a pandemic?

During a flu pandemic, more people will be sick at the same time than normal, and it will be harder for the health system to keep up.  It is estimated that at its peak, 10 per cent of persons or more will be ill enough to be off work during any one week.  Because more people will be sick, you might have to wait longer to see your doctor or get into a hospital.  And because more people will be off work with the flu, there may be problems in other types of services, like garbage pickup, bus service and being able to purchase food.

There are plans in place to help people during a pandemic.  For example, you can expect that:

  • The most needed medical services will still be provided;
  • Special clinics may be set up specifically to treat people with flu or flu-like illness; and
  • People with the worst symptoms and those who are most likely to get very sick or die from the flu will be cared for.

If an influenza pandemic occurs, it may hit individual communities at different times.  It could affect a community for a period of several weeks, subside and then reappear again several months later.  There could be waves of pandemic influenza in B.C. before the pandemic is finished.

Q & A - ImmunizeBC