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Health impacts from disease / contamination

What is Pandemic Flu?

A pandemic is a rapidly-spreading, epidemic of a disease that affects most countries and regions of the world. The symptoms of pandemic influenza are similar to those of ‘ordinary’ flu but are usually more severe.

What is the difference between pandemic flu and ordinary flu?

Ordinary Flu

  • Occurs every year during the winter
  • Affects up to about 10% of the population
  • For most people it is an unpleasant but not life threatening infection
  • The very young, the very old and people with certain chronic illnesses are most at risk of serious illness
  • Annual vaccination is available for those at risk of serious illness
  • Antiviral drugs are available to treat those at special risk

Pandemic Flu

  • Occurs about three times each century at any time of the year
  • May affect around 25% of the population
  • It is a more serious infection for everyone
  • People of every age may be at risk of serious illness
  • A vaccine won’t be available to start with when it does become available the aim will be to immunise the whole population as rapidly as possible as vaccine supplies come through
  • Antiviral drugs are likely to be in limited supply and will have to be used to best effect according to how the disease develops.

How will a flu Pandemic differ from and outbreak of ordinary flu?

It is difficult to say just how serious a pandemic will be. It depends on how easily the particular virus spreads, which age groups are affected most, the severity of the symptoms it produces, and how many deaths it causes. It is likely that pandemic flu will affect far more people than ordinary flu.

Around a quarter of the population could have been affected by the end of the pandemic (which may occur in two waves of infection several months apart, each lasting about two to three months). It is also likely to be a more serious illness. And the vaccine against ordinary flu will not protect against pandemic flu.

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Last updated: 3 August 2017

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