An outbreak or epidemic refers to the local or regional spread of an illness while a pandemic refers to worldwide spread. The most pandemic-prone organism is the influenza virus. There have been four influenza pandemics in the last 100 years, including the most recent one in 2009, which was caused by the H1N1 influenza virus.
For influenza to become a pandemic:
the virus must be new or novel in some way
the virus must cause severe illness or morbidity
the virus must transmit easily between humans
there must be no natural immunity or readily available vaccine.
Depending on the nature and severity of a pandemic, public health strategies will include, at a minimum:
promoting hand hygiene and environmental cleaning
anti-viral and vaccine uptake (to increase "herd immunity")
encouraging social distancing.
In some cases more aggressive measures (such as school closures) may be required,.
Whatever the strategy, public health professionals are always careful to balance the health and safety of the public with the rights of individuals.
Influenza pandemics represent global emergencies with catastrophic impact.
During a pandemic, worldwide epidemics of influenza due to a new viral subtype occur simultaneously and with high death rates.
Pandemics occur every 10 to 40 years. During the last century alone, three occurred. The worst was between 1918 and 1919 when over 20 million people died.
When the next pandemic occurs – and it will – no time can be lost in responding. We must work together now to develop efficient and effective interventions.
This BC planning guide is intended to help all of us anticipate, prepare and respond to the effects of the next pandemic. (The planning templates can be utilized in managing other respiratory disease outbreaks.)
Influenza Pandemic Planning page (BC Ministry fo Health)
The BCCDC plays a key role in pandemic planning in BC, and participates in a number of key national committees relating to public health and pandemic influenza. Through these collaborative activities, the BCCDC has helped to develop provincial and national plans and guidance on public health measures, vaccines, antivirals and usage of protective equipment.
Interacting with the public increases your chances of getting the flu but does not make it inevitable. Prepare for the flu season by educating yourself, your family and your employees about influenza and taking simple precautions.
Planning for a pandemic is essential. A pandemic may seriously affect your business and workers’ health. Being informed and knowing what to do during a flu pandemic will help minimize its impact on your operations.
Review your plan on an annual basis and make certain it is up to date. Incorporate new developments from previous flu seasons and revise your plan accordingly.
Having adequate hand washing supplies in the washrooms, kitchens and other sink areas in your home or office is critical. Businesses may also consider providing additional hand hygiene stations in highly visible locations, particularly where people tend to gather, such as entrances and water coolers.
Influenza viruses can survive on some surfaces from a period of several hours to days, but are rapidly destroyed by cleaning. Cleaning of frequently touched objects and surfaces will help to prevent the transmission of the virus from person to person through contaminated hands. It is recommended that businesses and community organizations increase the frequency of cleaning of frequently touched surfaces to at least twice daily and ensure that adequate hand hygiene supplies are available at all times.
Frequently touched objects and surfaces include:
- hand rails
- faucet handles
- work surfaces
- computer keyboards
No special disinfectants or waste handling practices are required for influenza; regular household or commercially available cleaning products are sufficient for this purpose and waste handling according to usual standards is adequate. Dishes, clothing, and sheets used by an individual with influenza, or an 'influenza-like-illness (ILI)' can be washed using ordinary detergent and water.
The Public Health Agency of Canada does not recommend that healthy people wear masks as they go about their daily lives in the community. There is no evidence to suggest that wearing masks will prevent the spread of infection in the general population and improper use of masks may actually increase the risk of infection, as removing the mask incorrectly can spread the virus to one’s hands and face.
For more information, see the Government of Canada Flu (Influenza) web page.