Prepare for a Flu Pandemic

The Basics

The Basics: Overview

Planning ahead and taking steps to stop the spread of germs can help keep you and your family safe if there’s a flu pandemic.

What is a flu pandemic?

A flu pandemic happens when a new flu virus spreads easily and makes many people sick around the world. Similar to seasonal (regular) flu, a flu pandemic is caused by a virus that infects the nose, throat, and lungs.

How is a flu pandemic different from seasonal flu?

Flu pandemics and seasonal flu are caused by different viruses. Flu pandemics are usually caused by a new flu virus that spreads from animals to people. Since most people have never come in contact with it before, it can spread very easily and cause lots of illness.

How common are flu pandemics?

Flu pandemics don’t happen very often. There have only been 4 flu pandemics in the past 100 years.

What happens during a flu pandemic?

In a serious flu pandemic, many 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.

Will the seasonal flu vaccine protect me against a flu pandemic?

Probably not – although it's still important. Seasonal flu vaccines are made to protect people from the viruses experts think are most likely to make people sick during the upcoming flu season. Since a flu pandemic is caused by a new virus, the seasonal flu vaccine probably won’t protect you from a flu pandemic.

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The Basics: How to Prepare

Is there a vaccine that protects against a flu pandemic?

The U.S. government keeps a supply of vaccines that may protect people against a flu pandemic. But if a new flu virus starts to spread, a new vaccine may be needed to protect people against it.

It can take time to make new vaccines to protect people from a pandemic flu virus – but it’s important to get the new pandemic vaccine once it’s available.

How can I prepare for a flu pandemic?

The same steps you take every year to protect yourself and others from seasonal flu can also help during a flu pandemic. Follow these basic steps:

  • Get a seasonal flu vaccine every year. Make sure everyone in your family age 6 months and older also gets it.
  • Avoid people who are coughing or sneezing. 
  • 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.

  • Gather supplies, like extra food, water, and medicine.
  • Make an emergency plan for your family.
  • Write down important health information.
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Take Action!

Take Action: Don't Spread Germs

Take steps to stop the spread of germs and to prepare for a flu pandemic.

Stop the spread of germs.

Take these steps to help stop the spread of flu viruses:

  • Avoid close contact with sick people.
  • Stay home from work or school if you get sick.
  • Stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone, too. (Your fever should be gone without using a fever-reducing medicine.)
  • Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the trash.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water. If soap and water aren’t available, use an alcohol-based hand rub (hand sanitizer).
  • Don’t touch your eyes, nose, and mouth. This helps keep germs out of your body.

If there's a flu pandemic, follow the advice of local officials about school and other closings.

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Take Action: Get a Flu Vaccine

Get a seasonal flu vaccine every year.

The best way to protect yourself and others from flu is to get a seasonal flu vaccine every year. Everyone age 6 months and older needs to get a flu vaccine every year.

Use this flu clinic locator to find out where you can get a flu vaccine.

The seasonal flu vaccine is the best way to protect yourself from seasonal flu, but it probably won’t protect you against a new pandemic flu virus. In a pandemic, a new vaccine will need to be made – and this may take time.

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