The Basics: Overview
A flu pandemic is a global outbreak of a new flu virus that spreads easily from person to person.
How is a flu pandemic different from seasonal (regular) flu?
Both types of flu are caused by viruses that infect the nose, throat, and lungs. Unlike the seasonal flu, a flu pandemic is rare. There have only been 4 flu pandemics in the past 100 years – but they were very serious.
In the United States, flu season begins each year in the fall and can last as late as May. Every flu season, a vaccine is made to protect against seasonal flu.
A flu pandemic is caused by a new flu virus that spreads easily and makes many people sick around the world. For example, the 2009 H1N1 virus caused a flu pandemic.
Will the seasonal flu vaccine protect me against a flu pandemic?
The seasonal flu vaccine probably won’t protect against a pandemic flu virus. If a new flu virus starts to spread, a new vaccine may be made to protect people against it.
If there is a flu pandemic, it’s important to get the pandemic vaccine once it’s available. It can take time to make new vaccines to protect people from a pandemic flu virus.
The Basics: How to Prepare
How can I prepare for a flu pandemic?
The same steps you take every year to protect yourself and others from the seasonal flu can help in case of a pandemic. Follow these basic steps:
- Get a seasonal flu shot every year. Make sure everyone in your family age 6 months and older also gets a flu shot every year.
- Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze.
- Wash your hands often with soap and water.
- Stay home from work or school if you are sick with a fever or have other flu symptoms.
It’s also a good idea to prepare for a flu pandemic like you would prepare for any emergency where you might need to stay home for 1 to 2 weeks.
- Gather supplies, like extra food, water, and medicine.
- Make an emergency plan for your family.
- Write down important health information.
The Basics: Learn More
How serious can a flu pandemic be?
Not all pandemics are the same. Pandemics can range from mild (similar to a regular flu season) to severe (with a lot of sickness and deaths).
A severe flu pandemic means that a lot of people get sick at the same time. This can cause schools, businesses, and community events to shut down in order to slow the spread of illness. Learn more about flu pandemics.