Pandemic Influenza

What is an Influenza Pandemic?

An influenza pandemic occurs when a new influenza virus emerges for which people have little or no immunity, and for which there is no vaccine. The disease spreads easily from person-to-person, causing serious illness, and can sweep across the country and around the world in very short time.

Seasonal Flu and Pandemic Flu Comparison Table (PDF)

A severe influenza pandemic will lead to high levels of illness, death, social disruption and economic loss. The impact of an influenza pandemic would be felt at all levels of society. Expected impacts include but are not limited to:

  • School closures
  • Business closures
  • Interruption of basic services
  • Healthcare system overload
  • Medical supply and equipment shortages

It is difficult to predict when the next influenza pandemic will occur or how severe it will be. Wherever and whenever a pandemic starts, everyone around the world is at risk.
To mitigate the challenges associated with an influenza pandemic it is vital that government agencies, community agencies and individual community members work together to plan and prepare for an influenza pandemic.

The 1918 Spanish flu pandemic, the worst pandemic of this century had a case fatality rate of just 2.5%.


History of Pandemic Influenza

History suggests that influenza pandemics have occurred during the last four centuries.  During the 20th century, three pandemics occurred in 1918, 1957, and 1968.  

Spanish Flu—1918: It is estimated approximately 20% to 40% of the worldwide population became ill and that over 50 million people died.  With the Spanish flu, mortality rates were high among healthy adults as well as the high-risk groups.  Approximately 675,000 people died in the U.S. Click on the links below for more information on the Spanish Flu.

Asian Flu—1957: In February 1957, the Asian influenza pandemic was first identified in the Far East.  Unlike the virus that caused the 1918 pandemic, the 1957 pandemic virus was quickly identified.  Infection rates in the United States were highest among school children, young adults and pregnant women.  Although the Asian flu pandemic was not as devastating as the Spanish flu, about 70,000 people in the U.S. died.

Hong Kong Flu—1968:
The Hong Kong influenza pandemic was first detected in early 1968.  Deaths from this virus peaked in December 1968 and January 1969.  The number of deaths between September 1968 and March 1969 for this pandemic was 34,000, making it the mildest pandemic in the 20th century.

Preparing for an Influenza Pandemic

Simple steps can be taken to mitigate the effects of pandemic influenza as well as better prepare yourself, your family and your community for an influenza pandemic.

  • Educate yourself about pandemic influenza and how it spreads
  • Create a plan for you and your family
  • Create an emergency kit
  • Have  a continuous supply of your prescription medication on hand*
  • Have nonprescription medication used to treat signs and symptoms of influenza on hand*
  • Talk with your employer about the possibility of telecommuting or working from home during a pandemic
  • Be sure to check all medications on a regular basis for expiration dates.
The following steps can be taken to help protect you, your family and the community from the influenza virus:
  • Get your seasonal influenza vaccine each year
  • Wash your hands with soap and water or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing and sneezing
  • Avoid crowds
  • If you are sick, stay home and away from others

Riverside County’s Role during an Influenza Pandemic

The Riverside County Department of Public Health (DOPH) is the lead agency in coordinating county wide public health and emergency medical response. Riverside County DOPH will work to ensure that all reasonable measures are taken to limit the spread of an outbreak within the county’s borders. Activities will include:

  • Implementation of the Riverside County Department of Public Health Pandemic Influenza Plan
  • Pandemic influenza emergency command and management
  • Surveillance; monitoring cases of flu
  • Management of medical health response
  • Dissemination of public health messages to the county
  • Vaccine and antiviral distribution
  • Public education

Additional information on Pandemic Influenza