Wyoming Pandemic Influenza Frequently Asked Questions 
 

What is influenza?

Influenza (flu) is a respiratory illness caused by a virus. Symptoms of the flu include fever, headache, extreme tiredness, dry cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, and muscle aches. While people frequently say “stomach flu” to describe vomiting, nausea, or diarrhea, these illnesses are almost always caused by viruses other than influenza, bacteria, or parasites. Influenza can cause severe illness and complications. About 36,000 Americans die each year from flu complications. Seasonal flu happens every year, usually in the winter months, and is generally predictable.

What is pandemic flu?

Pandemic influenza (flu) is a global outbreak of influenza disease from a new virus strain that is not like past versions. Most or all people will not have any natural immunity to a new pandemic virus, and there will likely not be an existing vaccine. That’s why such a virus can spread easily from person to person and sweep rapidly around the world.

What is the difference between seasonal and pandemic flu?

There are many influenza virus strains and they change constantly. Seasonal flu outbreaks are somewhat predictable because they are caused by strains similar to those that have circulated before. Young and healthy people generally have some immunity against closely related strains of virus from one year to the next. Flu pandemics are much less predictable. Because they are caused by a new virus strain that most people have never been exposed to, everyone will be susceptible. The numbers of sick people will likely be much higher than normal. Pandemic strains can also cause more severe symptoms and more serious complications.

What can I do to prepare for a pandemic?

You can do several things now to help your family be more ready for a flu pandemic:

  • Store an ample supply of water and nonperishable food.
  • Keep routinely used prescription drugs and nonprescription drugs such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen and anti-diarrhea medication on hand.
  • Talk to loved ones about how they would like to be cared for should they get sick.
  • Maintain supplies such as soap or sanitizers, thermometers, surgical masks and gloves, tissues, toilet paper, garbage bags, diapers, and batteries.
  • Make alternate plans for work and childcare should you be ill, or if schools/childcare facilities close.

How can I help prevent spreading flu during a pandemic?

For the most part, the same common-sense steps that are most effective during the seasonal flu season will be the best protection strategies during a pandemic:

  • Frequently wash your hands with soap and water or use a hand sanitizer.
  • Cough or sneeze into your sleeve or cover your mouth and nose with a tissue.
  • Avoid being around those who are ill as much as possible.
  • Stay home from work or school when you are sick.
  • Regularly disinfect common contact surfaces such as phones, counters and doorknobs.
  • Avoid large gatherings of people if you can.
  • Follow the guidance offered by public health officials.

What is avian influenza?

Avian influenza is an infection caused by avian (bird) influenza (flu) viruses. These flu viruses occur naturally among birds. Wild birds worldwide, acting as reservoirs, carry a normally harmless form of influenza viruses in their intestines, and wild birds usually do not get sick from them. Avian influenza can be very contagious among domestic poultry, and can make some domesticated birds, including chickens, ducks, and turkeys, very sick and kill them.

Infection with avian influenza viruses in domestic poultry causes two main forms of disease that are distinguished by low and high extremes of virulence. The “low pathogenic” form may go undetected and usually causes only mild symptoms (such as ruffled feathers and a drop in egg production). However, the “highly pathogenic” form spreads more rapidly through flocks of poultry. This form may cause disease that affects multiple internal organs and has a mortality rate that can reach 90-100 percent, often within 48 hours.

Can I become infected with avian influenza by eating poultry?

Properly prepared and cooked poultry is safe to eat. Cooking poultry to an internal temperature of 165 °F kills the avian influenza virus as it does other bacteria and viruses. Proper cooking is important if there is a concern that the avian influenza virus might be present. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) advises that cooking poultry to the proper temperature and preventing cross-contamination between raw and cooked food is the key to food safety. Consumers are reminded to:

  • Wash hands with warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds before and after handling food.
  • Prevent cross-contamination by keeping raw poultry, meat, and fish and their juices away from other foods.
  • After cutting raw meat, wash cutting board, knife, and countertops with hot, soapy water.
  • Sanitize cutting boards by using a solution of 1 teaspoon chlorine bleach in 1 quart of water
  • Use a food thermometer to ensure poultry has reached the safe internal temperature of at least 165 °F to kill food borne germs that might be present, including the avian influenza virus.

Will schools be closed during the pandemic?

To help lessen the effects of pandemic influenza on a community, the closing of schools, pre-schools, and daycares may be recommended. While the closing schools, pre-schools, and daycares could eliminate large gatherings, such actions are not without potential complications and will not be entered into lightly. If reports (epidemiology) suggest the pandemic is moderate or severe or that children are at particular risk of serious disease, then based upon guidance from public health officials cancelling services or classes in traditional classroom settings should be considered. It is likely decisions whether to close schools, pre-schools, and daycares will be largely made by local school and public health officials, and parents. Such decisions may depend on contingency plans for closure, anticipated effect on the community, extent of illness in the community, number of healthy staff and students, and parents’ willingness to send their children to these facilities.

Colleges and universities should anticipate the canceling/postponing of events that result in large gatherings such as sports and cultural events and large classes. Strong consideration should be given to closing dormitory type student housing

What are antiviral medications?

Antiviral medications can decrease the length of time someone is sick with the flu and decrease the severity of symptoms in many people if started soon after symptoms develop. In some circumstances antiviral medications may prevent the development of flu if taken before exposure to the virus and throughout the time exposure may occur. These medications are generally swallowed by mouth or inhaled and are available by order of a licensed healthcare provider.  

What is the difference between an antiviral and a vaccine?

Unlike an antiviral medication, a vaccine is made of key components of an infectious agent, such as an influenza virus, and is meant to induce long-term immunity to that specific infectious agent. To help prevent illness from the flu virus, antiviral medications must be taken before exposure to the virus and throughout the time exposure may occur. With a vaccine, lasting immunity can usually be achieved with only a small number of doses.

Will there be a vaccine during a pandemic?

Because the virus causing a flu pandemic will be a new strain, it is highly unlikely that a vaccine will be available early. It takes several months to develop an effective vaccine, and it will not be possible to produce enough for everyone quickly. To get the most benefit from a limited vaccine supply, the vaccine will probably be distributed first to certain groups of people such as those at high-risk for complications or healthcare workers.

Who will get the vaccine?

Once a pandemic strain has been indentified, vaccine manufacturers will not be able to produce enough vaccine immediately to immunize the entire population. Vaccine will be produced in limited, regular batches. As a result, there will be a priority schedule for receiving the vaccine. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) will determine priority lists for who are the most critical and vulnerable groups to receive vaccine first. As a general rule, the state will follow these priority recommendations; however, each county health officer will have the authority to make changes based on local conditions. Please stay watch and listen for state and local public health announcements about the priority schedule.

What is isolation and quarantine?

Isolation involves the separation of persons who have a specific infectious illness from those who are healthy and the restriction of their movement to stop the spread of that illness. Isolation allows the focused delivery of specialized health care to people who are ill and protects healthy people from getting sick. People in isolation may be cared for in their homes, in hospitals, or in designated healthcare facilities.

Quarantine refers to the separation and restriction of movement of persons who, while not yet ill, have been exposed to an infectious agent. Quarantine of exposed persons is a public health strategy, like isolation, that is intended to stop the spread of infectious disease.

When will isolation and quarantine be used?

During the early stages of a pandemic, particularly if the flu virus is not easily transmitted, use of isolation and quarantine may slow disease spread and allow time for targeted use of medical interventions. However, at any point during the pandemic you may be asked by your healthcare provider to isolate yourself from others by staying home. This will help protect healthy people from being exposed and becoming sick. Everyone who is ill with influenza should practice voluntary isolation and stay home from work, school, crowded settings, and avoid close contact with others as much as possible.