Frequently Asked Questions:
What is a pandemic?
A pandemic influenza is a worldwide outbreak of disease that occurs when a new influenza virus appears in humans, causes serious illness and then spreads easily from person to person worldwide.
Historically, pandemics occur every 30-40 years. Three major influenza pandemics swept the globe in the 20th century causing millions of deaths.
The 2009-2010 Pandemic:
In April 2009, a novel influenza virus began circulation in Mexico and the United States. This virus – a novel H1N1 virus – caused mild illness and some deaths in our country, including New Jersey. The virus rapidly spread across the globe and the World Health Organization (WHO) declared a pandemic in June 2009, based on the number of countries with individuals infected by this.
Unlike the traditional seasonal flu, the H1N1 virus tended to cause serious illness to children and healthy adults. Pregnant women and individuals with compromised immune systems were also particlulary vulnerable to the H1N1 virus.
Vaccination efforts began in early October, however vaccine was in limited supply until mid-December. New Jersey continued to experience mild illness and few deaths through the winter and spring of 2010.
In June 2010, the federal Centers for Disease Control (CDC) declared the national public health emergency ended. In August 2010, the WHO declared the end of the pandemic.
Because the H1N1 virus is still circulating, the 2010-2011 seasonal flu vaccine will contain protection from this virus, along with two other flu strains. Only one vaccine is necessary to protect against H1N1 and seasonal flu in 2010-2011.
What’s the difference between a pandemic and a seasonal outbreak of flu?
A pandemic is cause by a new virus that people have not been exposed to, so everyone is susceptible. Pandemic influenzas can cause more serious disease and many more deaths than the seasonal flu. Because of this, past pandemics have led to high levels of illness, death, disruption of society and economic loss.
Seasonal outbreaks of influenza are caused by strains of the flu similar to those of past years. Because of this, people have built up immunity and there is a vaccine available for each flu season.
How often do pandemics occur?
History tells us that pandemics occur every 30 to 40 years. Previous pandemics occurred in 1918, 1957 and 1976. No one can predict when a pandemic might occur.
Is New Jersey prepared for a pandemic?
New Jersey’s Department of Health (DOH) has been preparing for an influenza pandemic since 1999. The Department’s first plan was completed in 2002 and posted on its website. It has since been revised four times as new information becomes available.
In Spring 2008, the Department published its first operational plan, which describes specific activities that will take place during 17 different phases of a pandemic. This plan has been shared with other partner agencies.
The Department, which is responsible for the public health response to a pandemic, has worked with the Governor’s Office, the New Jersey Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness, the New Jersey State Police and other agencies in developing strategies for New Jersey’s overall pandemic preparedness and response plan.
In addition, the Department has worked with health care agencies, hospitals, the business community and local health departments to develop strategies and coordinate planning efforts.
The Department of Health has also developed an ongoing public awareness campaign to educate the general public on the complex issues that will be associated with a pandemic. Those include: the lack of medications and vaccines that would be available; the impact on daily activities such as closing schools, cancelling sporting events and closing businesses; and how physicians offices and health care facilities would be overwhelmed.
The information campaign (Get Flu Ready, New Jersey) also provides ways New Jersey residents can prepare themselves and their families for a pandemic.
During the 2009-2010 pandemic, New Jersey activated these response plans and has reviewed them to better prepare for future public health emergencies.
Why is a pandemic different than other health emergencies?
Flu pandemics are different from many other health emergencies for several reasons:
- 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 a flu pandemic would be widespread, affecting many regions of the country at once.
How can I protect myself during a pandemic?
Protect yourself against the spread of the flu and other germs and viruses:
- Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when coughing or sneezing
- Wash hands thoroughly and often
- Avoid touching eyes, nose or mouth
- Stay home when you are sick
- Get a seasonal flu shot
- Get an flu shot for the pandemic virus when it becomes available
- Stay informed