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Cold, Flu, & Cough Health Center

What Are Epidemics, Pandemics, and Outbreaks?

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Epidemics, Pandemics, and Outbreaks continued...

The World Health Organization (WHO) provides an influenza pandemic alert system, with a scale ranging from Phase 1 (a low risk of a flu pandemic) to Phase 6 (a full-blown pandemic):

  • Phase 1: A virus in animals has caused no known infections in humans.
  • Phase 2: An animal flu virus has caused infection in humans.
  • Phase 3: Sporadic cases or small clusters of disease occur in humans. Human-to-human transmission, if any, is insufficient to cause community-level outbreaks.
  • Phase 4: The risk for a pandemic is greatly increased but not certain.
  • Phase 5: Spread of disease between humans is occurring in more than one country of one WHO region.
  • Phase 6: Community-level outbreaks are in at least one additional country in a different WHO region from phase 5. A global pandemic is under way.

How many people die from a pandemic depends upon:

  • The number of people who become infected
  • The severity of disease caused by the virus (its virulence)
  • The vulnerability of affected populations
  • The effectiveness of preventive steps

 

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.

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