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Pandemic Influenza (Flu): What you need to know

H1N1 (Swine Flu): Find details on the Health Alerts Web site.

What is pandemic flu?

Pandemic flu occurs when a new influenza virus appears or emerges in the human population and causes a global outbreak of the disease, resulting in serious illness as it spreads from person to person. Pandemic flu has occurred naturally throughout history. There have been three pandemics in the last 100 years, prior to the emergence of novel H1N1 (swine flu) in the spring of 2009:

  • 1918 - 1919: Spanish flu
  • 1956 - 1958: Asian flu
  • 1968 - 1969: Hong Kong flu
  • Spring 2009 - ongoing: Novel H1N1

Pandemics are unpredictable and it is hard to know when one will occur, what type of flu it will be, and how severe it will be. A flu pandemic could cause many deaths and severe illnesses, disrupt some parts of daily life, and limit the amount of health and other services available. Gatherings of people might be limited to control the spread of the disease (schools and businesses may close, sporting events could be cancelled, and transportation could be limited). Additionally, hospitals could be overloaded if doctors and nurses are sick. There also may be more people with the flu than the hospitals can take. In this case, some people would need to be cared for in their homes or other places.

What is the difference between a pandemic and an epidemic?

Pandemics are different from seasonal outbreaks of influenza because seasonal outbreaks are caused by subtypes of influenza viruses that are already in existence among populations. Pandemic outbreaks are caused by new subtypes being developed, those that have never circulated or have not been around for a long time.  

Click here for further information from the official U.S. government Web site for information on pandemic flu.

For additional information about pandemic influenza from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), click here.

What is the Kentucky Department for Public Health doing to prepare for pandemic flu?

The Department for Public Health has taken the possibility of a flu pandemic very seriously. Kentucky recently updated the state's pandemic influenza plan, which addresses such issues as how we could limit the spread of the disease, stretch available resources, and best protect the health and safety of Kentuckians during a pandemic flu outbreak. It builds upon the infrastructure and successful relationships that were developed over the past several years of increased disaster preparedness planning statewide.

The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) Pandemic Influenza Plan provides a blueprint from which to prepare for the challenges that lie ahead for the nation. Click here to view the HHS pandemic influenza plan.

Click here to listen to a public service announcement from DPH on how to prepare for pandemic flu.

Kentucky recently launched a statewide pandemic flu informational campaign with the following four audio news releases:

Part 1 - What is pandemic flu?

Part 2 - Ways to protect yourself against pandemic flu

Part 3 - The potential impact of pandemic flu

Part 4 - How state officials are preparing for pandemic flu

An informational folding pocket brochure on pandemic flu was recently developed. Click here to view the English version. Spanish version is currently in production and will be posted shortly. 


Protect Yourself

Health officials recommend people continue to take the same precautions to protect themselves against avian flu as they would from colds and other flu.

Precautions include:

  • Covering your nose and mouth with a tissue when sneezing, coughing or blowing your nose.
  • Frequently washing your hands with soap and water or hand sanitizer.
  • Staying home if you have a cough or fever.
  • Seeing your health care provider as soon as possible if you have a cough or fever and following their instructions as prescribed to get plenty of rest.

Getting Ready for Pandemic Influenza

When preparing for a possible emergency situation such as pandemic influenza, it's best to think first about the basics of survival, including fresh water, food, clean air and warmth. Because it may be necessary to protect yourself and others from contracting the virus, you may have to remain in your home for several days. The checklist below contains certain items that may be especially important if you cannot leave your home and people cannot enter.

  • Food and water - Be sure to have several days to a week's supply of canned/dried food and water on hand and a can opener. Grocery stores may not have adequate supplies or staff available to remain open. Don't forget baby formula and diapers. Basic utilities such as electricity or water may experience disruptions.
  • Medications, First Aid Kit and equipment - If you must take medications on a regular basis, be sure to have an adequate supply to last the duration of your stay.
  • Blankets - Ensure that you have plenty of warm blankets on hand in case of electricity disruptions.
  • Phone - If there are disruptions to power, you will require a telephone (standard wired phone) that does not run on power from an electrical outlet. Cell phones may operate when the power is out, but wireless phones will not.
  • Battery powered radio with extra batteries
  • Flashlight with extra batteries
  • Items for personal comfort - Items such as soap, shampoo, toothpaste, facial and bathroom tissue should be on hand to make your time at home more comfortable. Be sure to include items for children such as coloring books, games and activities.
  • Face and nose protection - Face masks should be available for each member of the family to prevent the spread of disease. Dense-weave cotton material that snugly covers your nose and mouth and is specifically fit for each member of the family. Do whatever you can to make the best fit possible for children. There are also a variety of face masks readily available in hardware stores.
  • Large trash bags and ties - Large trash bags should be kept on hand to store garbage safely because garbage service may be disrupted or postponed for many days.
  • Pets - Ensure you have plenty of food, water or litter available for your pets.
  • Emergency Plan - Take the time to prepare a family emergency plan. Record medical histories, social security numbers and contact information on the Kentucky Community Information Pocket Guide. Ensure your children and family members know who to contact in an emergency. Don't forget to check in on your neighbors and the elderly in your community.


Resources and Helpful Links

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

CDC Pandemic Influenza Web site

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Materials

World Health Organization (WHO)

Media Materials

Planning Materials

    Federal Planning and Response

    State and Local Government


    Individuals and Families

Risk Communication Resources


See Also...
  Pandemic Flu Web site
CHFS Pandemic Flu Internet Site

Last Updated 8/19/2009