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Cold, Flu, & Cough Health Center

What Are Epidemics, Pandemics, and Outbreaks?

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Prevention: Slowing the Spread of Pandemic Disease continued...

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:

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.

Antiviral Medications for Treatment and Prevention

If available, prescription antiviral drugs may help with both treatment and prevention of influenza. These may come in a pill, liquid, or inhaled form. Five influenza antiviral drugs are approved in the United States. The ones currently recommended are:

If you are already sick and it has been less than 48 hours since the onset of symptoms, an antiviral drug may help by:

  • Making you feel better faster
  • Keeping you from getting seriously ill
  • Preventing serious complications

If you have been exposed to influenza, an antiviral drug may be about 70%-90% effective in preventing illness.

Pandemic Preparation

A pandemic causes economic and social disruption due to high rates of illness and worker absenteeism. This is especially true if absenteeism affects key services such as transportation, communication, or power.

Here are a few things you can do:

  • Plan ahead, in case services are disrupted. This is especially important if someone in your family has special needs. For example, make sure to have a way to fill needed prescriptions.
  • See if you can work from home in the event of a pandemic.
  • Plan home learning activities if school is closed.
  • Store extra water, food, and supplies.
  • Stay as healthy as you can by getting adequate rest, managing stress, eating right, and continuing to exercise.
  • Assist seniors in your community.

For more information on influenza pandemic preparedness, go to the federal government's flu website. You can also call the CDC Hotline at 800-CDC-INFO (800-232-4636) or email questions to

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Jennifer Robinson, MD on May 10, 2015
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