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Listening to Communities: Pandemic FAQ

Q:  What is Listening to Communities?
A: Listening to Communities is a project designed to help communities address the threat of a global outbreak of influenza and its potential effects. It is based on the assumption that local communities can best prepare for such an event when residents and policymakers come together to share information, concerns and ideas.
Q:  Is there a Listening to Communities event in my area?
Four town hall meetings are planned in Grant County, in Silver City, Cliff/Gila, the tri-city area of Bayard, Santa Clara, and Hurley, and the Mimbres. For a complete list of Listening to Communities events, click here.
Q:  Who are the sponsors of Listening to Communities?
Listening to Communities is a project of the New Mexico Department of Health and the University of New Mexico Institute for Public Health, with local support from the Grant County Community Health Council, the Grant County Office of Emergency Management, Gila Regional Medical Center, and the Black Range Resource Conservation and Development Council.
Q:  How can I contact Listening to Communities?
E-mail This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it." ' + path + '\'' + prefix + ':' + addy98454 + '\' target="_top">'+addy_text98454+'<\/a>'; //--> or call 388-1198.
Q:  What is an influenza pandemic?
A pandemic is a global disease outbreak. An influenza pandemic occurs when a new influenza A virus emerges for which there is little or no immunity in the human population, begins to cause serious illness and then spreads easily person-to-person worldwide.
Q:  What's the difference between pandemic influenza and the influenza that makes people sick every year?
The seasonal flu is caused by a strain of influenza virus that changes slightly every year. Because the virus has been circulating in the human population for many years, most people have at least some immunity to it. Influenza pandemics occur when a new strain of the influenza virus - no one will have immunity to it. If a pandemic influenza virus emerges, it will spread globally, inevitably, and unstoppably. Every person in the world would be susceptible. Measures such as border closures and travel restrictions might delay arrival of the virus in some countries or cities, but it cannot be stopped.
Q:  Is an influenza pandemic really going to happen, or is this all just hype?
Most experts agree that a pandemic is imminent. Right now, the most likely candidate appears to be H5N1, the "bird flu" virus currently circulating in Asia.
Q:  When will an influenza pandemic occur?
Scientists do not know exactly when a pandemic will occur, but most agree that one is "imminent." A pandemic may be a decade away, or it may occur during the next few months or years.
Q:  Can we stop a pandemic from occurring?
Vaccinating and culling birds, imposing travel restrictions and other actions may delay or slow the spread of pandemic disease. But the reality of a coming pandemic cannot be avoided. Only its impact can be lessened.
Q:  Have there been other pandemics?
Ten influenza pandemics have occurred over the past 300 years. During the twentieth century, three influenza pandemics occurred: one in 1918-1919, one in 1957-58 and the last one in 1968-69. The 1918-19 pandemic killed 50 to 100 million people globally and at least 650,000 people in the United States. The two later pandemics, which were considered mild, killed several tens of thousands of Americans.
Q:  Is the world prepared for a pandemic?
Some governments and international health agencies such as World Health Organization have started to prepare for a pandemic, but much more needs to be done by national, state, and local governments, institutions, businesses, and individuals.
Q:  What would be the impact of a pandemic?
Today, with a population of 6.5 billion, more than three times that of 1918, even a "mild" pandemic could kill many millions of people. The Centers for Disease Control predicts that during a "medium-level epidemic" up to 207,000 Americans would die, 734,000 would be hospitalized, and about a third of the U.S. population would fall ill. Direct medical costs would top $166 billion, not including the costs of vaccination. The effects of a severe epidemic, such as one caused by an H5N1 avian influenza that is transmittable from human to human, would be beyond imagination. Assuming a mortality rate of 20 percent and 80 million illnesses, 16 million Americans could die. Globally, especially in developing countries, the mortality rate would be much higher.
Q:  Would New Mexico be affected?
Yes. All areas of the world would be affected. The Centers for Diseases Control predicts that nearly one-third (432,438) of New Mexicans will fall ill. Of those, 14,504 people will be hospitalized, and 3,244 people will die during an influenza pandemic.
Q:  How long might an influenza pandemic last?
No one knows exactly how long a pandemic might last, but estimates range from one to three years. Pandemic disease tends to spread in waves, with each peak of illness lasting up to three months.
Q:  Who is most susceptible?
Usually influenza is most dangerous for the very young, the very old, and those with compromised immune systems. But in pandemic influenza, people with the strongest immune systems are the must vulnerable. More than half of the people killed in the 1918- 1919 pandemic were 18 to 40 years old and generally healthy. Pregnant women were also extremely vulnerable. This occurs because of a virus-induced response of the victim's immune system called a cytokine storm. The person's immune system attempts to fight the disease and in doing so severely damages the lungs, resulting in a condition called acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS). Victims of H5N1 have also suffered from cytokine storms.
Q:  Will a flu shot protect me?
A flu shot will not protect you from a new strain of influenza. However, it's a good idea to get a flu shot, because it will help to reduce the risk that you will be infected with both strains of influenza at the same time.
Q:  Is there a vaccine for this new form of influenza?
Because vaccines need to "match" the virus, a vaccine cannot be developed until the virus develops a form that allows it to pass rapidly from human to human. Scientists estimate that it would take at least six to nine months after the beginning of a pandemic to develop a vaccine. Even after a vaccine is developed, it's likely to be in short supply.
Q:  What about antiviral medications?
There's no clinical evidence that current antiviral medications, including Tamiflu, are effective against H5N1 strains of avian influenza. If available, these drugs will be in short supply and their use will probably be limited to health-care providers.
Q:  What can I do to protect myself?
Get a pneumonia shot and learn about good hygiene measures. In the 1957-58 and 1968-69 pandemics, the primary cause of death was secondary bacterial pneumonias that infected lungs weakened by influenza. Although such bacterial infections can often be treated by antibiotics, these drugs would be either unavailable or in short supply for much of the global population during a pandemic.
Q:  What can I do to prepare?
Currently, public health experts recommend that people practice "social isolation," which means being ready to stay home and avoid contact with others during each wave of pandemic illness. That could last as long as three months at a time. Stock up on enough food to feed each person in your household for about three months. Choose foods that will last, such as rice, beans, canned and dried goods. Ask your doctor about getting a supply of any medications you take regularly.
Q:  What if someone in my household gets sick?
Be prepared to care for people in the home. Health-care systems are likely to be overwhelmed. Stock up on over-the-counter medications such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) and ibuprofen (Advil). Purchase a supply of personal protective equipment, including N95 masks, surgical masks, gloves, and goggles. For more information about caring for any flu patient at home, see the Listening to Communities Guide to Home Care (To come!).
Q:  How might an influenza pandemic affect my community?
An influenza pandemic will affect every sector of our communities. Health-care systems will be overloaded and medical supplies inadequate. Schools and businesses will close and events will be cancelled. Supplies - including food, over-the-counter medicines and medicines for chronic diseases, will be difficult to obtain. Services such as water, gas, and electricity may be cut off.
Q:  How might an influenza pandemic affect the world?
Some countries might impose quarantines or close borders and airports. Such closures would interrupt trade, travel, and productivity, but scientists generally agree that they would do little to stop the spread of influenza. Stock markets worldwide would drop dramatically. Pandemic disease would also affect local and global security, as police and armed forces also fall ill.

Last Updated on Saturday, 16 November 2013 18:03

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