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Every winter, the U.S. suffers a seasonal flu that kills approximately 36,000 Americans and hospitalizes more than 200,000. Terrible as that is, health experts are now warning about a far more lethal kind of flu – a pandemic flu that could kill over half a million Americans, hospitalize more than two million, cost our economy billions in lost productivity and direct medical expenses, and impact virtually every community.
Public health authorities are particularly concerned about the H5N1 avian "bird flu" virus that could mutate into a new strain of flu against which humans would have no immunity. The federal government has warned that such a bird flu pandemic could infect 30 percent of the U.S. population.
No one can accurately predict when the next influenza pandemic will occur or how severe it will be. What is known is that a flu pandemic occurs three to four times every century when a new influenza virus emerges. Pandemic flu spreads easily from person-to-person, may cause serious illness, and can sweep across the country and around the world in a very short time. A pandemic may come and go in waves, each of which might last for six to eight weeks.
If a severe pandemic were to hit the U.S., life as we know it could be seriously disrupted. Businesses and schools might have to shut down. Travel could be restricted.
DON’T BE SCARED. BE PREPARED.
All of us want to do the right things to protect ourselves and our families in the event of a health emergency, including a pandemic flu outbreak. So it is important to take steps now to have a plan in place to protect your loved ones during a pandemic.
Some of these are steps that should be taken to prepare for other types of public health emergencies, so doing them now in preparation for a pandemic flu could benefit you in other situations as well.
This brochure was prepared by Trust for America's Health's Pandemic Preparedness Initiative, which was Pew supported.
More resources for public health officials and the general public are available at these two Web sites: