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What Are Epidemics, Pandemics, and Outbreaks?

Prevention: Slowing the Spread of Pandemic Disease

There is no foolproof method for preventing the spread of disease during an influenza outbreak, epidemic, or pandemic. Although a vaccine is not likely to be available at first, today it is easier to produce specific vaccines more quickly than in the past. Once a vaccine becomes available, certain individuals and groups will be vaccinated first. If mass vaccination clinics become available in your community, be prepared to provide medical information about your family.

In addition to vaccinations, you can take other prevention steps like these.

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water. If these are not available, use an alcohol-based hand cleaner or gel sanitizer. If using a gel, rub your hands until they become dry.
  • Avoid touching your mouth, nose, or eyes with your hands unless you've just washed your hands.
  • When you cough or sneeze, cover your mouth and nose with a tissue. Then throw the tissue in the trash. Wash your hands afterward.
  • Avoid crowded places as much as you can and stay home if you show signs of illness.
  • Depending on the severity of the pandemic, consider wearing a face mask if you must go into a crowded area or be within 6 feet of others.
  • Consider wearing a face mask if you must come into close contact with an infected person.

If human infection of swine flu is confirmed in a community and you develop flu symptoms:

  • Stay home and away from other people while you are contagious. This may be seven days after the onset of illness or at least 24 hours after symptoms are gone, whichever is longer. If you seek care, contact your health care provider by phone or report illness before going to a clinic or the hospital. If you have severe symptoms like difficulty in breathing, then you should seek immediate attention.
  • Wear a face mask if you must go into a crowded place. If you do not have a face mask, cover your mouth and nose with a handkerchief or tissue when coughing or sneezing.
  • If possible, have just one person care for you to minimize contact with others. 

Seek emergency care right away if you have:

  • Trouble breathing or shortness of breath
  • Pain or pressure in your abdomen or chest
  • Sudden dizziness
  • Confusion
  • Severe vomiting

Pandemic Severity Index

The CDC has developed a Pandemic Severity Index, with categories of increasing severity (Category 1 to Category 5). It uses a ratio to estimate the number of expected deaths. Similar to preparing for a hurricane, this index helps communities with pandemic preparedness and planning.

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