TRANSCRIPT: Pandemic Flu Information.

Hello, this is Adam Crowe from the Platte County Health Department.

A pandemic is a global outbreak of disease.  Pandemic flu occurs when a new influenza virus emerges for which people have little or no immunity.  Flu is easily spread from person to person and can sweep across the country and around the world in a short time, causing serious illness or death.

Like all living things, viruses change and evolve.  Unfortunately, the influenza virus is particularly good at changing from previously identified forms and potentially becoming more dangerous and more difficult for immune systems and medicine to counter. Most experts believe that it is not a matter of if, but when, an influenza virus emerges that will cause a flu pandemic. Currently no pandemic flu strain exists.  Let me repeat…there is no pandemic flu in the United States or the world.  It is difficult to predict when the next influenza pandemic will occur or how severe it will be.  However, the possibility of a pandemic flu emerging is high and the threat is very real.  

The influenza virus and flu pandemics of varying severity have been part of human civilization for centuries. In the last century alone, the world saw three pandemics. The first and most severe occurred from 1918 to 1919.  This pandemic, often called the “Spanish Flu” resulted in more than 500,000 American deaths and many millions more worldwide.  To put the impact of the 1918 pandemic into perspective, consider that more Americans died as a result of that outbreak than the combined casualties of the World War I, World War II, the Korean and Vietnam Wars.  A less severe pandemic occurred from 1957 to 1958, killing approximately 70,000 Americans.  The most recent pandemic occurred from 1968 to 1969, with 34,000 deaths in America.

Pandemics can vary in severity from something that seems like a bad flu season – like happened in the 1968 pandemic – to an especially severe influenza pandemic – like the 1918 pandemic – that can lead to high levels of illness, death, social disruption and economic loss. In the severe scenario, it is estimated that 50 to 65 percent of the population in America would be sickened with possibly two million deaths.  Compare this to the seasonal flu, which on average affects 5 to 20 percent of the population and leads to the death of 36,000 Americans every year.

The effects of a pandemic flu are compounded by its duration; it will come in waves separated by six to eight weeks.  In a severe scenario, these waves would be accompanied by an average of 40 percent absenteeism from work due to personal sickness, family sickness, or even death. Schools would likely be closed, large public gatherings canceled, and the flow of everyday life greatly interrupted with social distancing or other infection-control measures.

 Consequently, a severe pandemic would also significantly impact the economy.  The impact on the American economy would be an estimated $73 - $166 billion during a severe pandemic.  The impact on the global economy might reach $4 trillion dollars, which is roughly the annual gross domestic product of Japan. The length of a flu pandemic will also have a significant impact on our ability to receive goods and services.  Much of our business is now based on a just-in-time delivery system. A large number of employees remaining absent for long periods of time can cripple the delivery and production of many basic items such as food, water, and medicine.

We may not be able to prevent pandemic flu, nor will we know how severe it may be. However planning and preparing now can go a long way to reduce the severity of impacts later. Governments at a national, state and local level are currently working to prepare themselves and the public through planning, education and awareness. To aid their efforts and to help yourself, your family and your business become pandemic prepared, listen to the next podcast about pandemic preparedness.

If you are interested in learning more about pandemic flu information and preparation, please visit one of the following websites or call your local public health department.

Pandemic Flu, www.pandemicflu.gov
Centers for Disease Control www.cdc.gov
KC One, www.preparemetrokc.org
Mid-America Regional Council, www.marc.org
Kansas Department of Health and Environment, www.kdheks.gov
Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, www.dhss.mo.gov