Frequently asked questions about avian and pandemic flu
Frequently Asked Questions
Avian and Pandemic Flu
What is the difference between Common (Seasonal) Flu, Avian Influenza (Bird Flu),
and Pandemic Flu?
A respiratory illness that can be transmitted person to person. Most people
have some immunity, and a vaccine Avian Influenza (Bird Flu):
An illness caused by influenza viruses that occur naturally
among wild birds. The H5N1 variant is deadly to domestic fowl and can be transmitted
from birds to humans. There is no human immunity, and no vaccine is available. Pandemic Flu:
A pandemic is a strong form of human flu that causes a global
outbreakCor pandemicCof serious illness. Because there is little natural immunity, the
disease can spread easily from
Is there currently pandemic flu anywhere in the world?
No, because the disease is not being spread easily from human to human.
Are pandemic flu and avian flu the same thing?
No. Avian flu is caused by influenza viruses that occur naturally among wild birds. Some
have a lower virulence, and others have a higher virulence. The H5N1 form is deadly to
domestic fowl and can be transmitted from birds to humans; this has not happened in the
U.S.A. yet. There is no human immunity; no vaccine is available. At least two anti-virals
are likely to help reduce duration and severity—but we will not know until avian
What is the incubation period for any type of flu?
Incubation is two days. Persons who become ill may transmit the infection one day
before they show symptoms. Sick people are the most infectious for the first two days.
One infected person is likely to infect two others. Children are the most infectious.
How are all flu viruses spread?
Spread of infection happens by breathing in virus that is contained in droplets from
someone who is sick, or by touching a contaminated surface and then touching your own
eyes, nose, or mouth. Currently, the only way people have been infected by avian
influenza is from close contact with sick poultry.
How long will an avian flu outbreak likely last?
The outbreak will likely last six to eight weeks at a time, with several recurrent waves. It
is most likely to occur in fall and winter, but we cannot be certain.
If avian influenza seems to be transmitted to people who have no direct contact with
birds, could this become a pandemic?
Yes, it has the potential to become a pandemic, because there is evidence that the virus is
spreading from person to person. It will be considered a pandemic if it is spreading
between people in a sustained way worldwide.
If there is a pandemic, it will be due to a virus to which people have never been exposed. There will be no vaccine available, but one might eventually be produced. Anti-virals can be used if the flu is treated within 48 hours of onset. Currently, only two anti-virals are recommended. The two oldest onesCAmantadine (Symmetrel) and Rimantadine (Flumadine)Care not likely to work; oseltamivir (Tamiflu) and zanamivir (Relenza) still are thought to be effective, but we will not know for sure until pandemic flu happens. Anti-virals can reduce severity and duration.
How many people will likely miss work or school during a peak avian influenza
If a pandemic occurs, it is expected that 30 percent of the overall population will become
sick. The highest rates will be among school-aged children (40 percent) and will decline
with age. The incidence for working adults will average 20 percent sick, and absence
from work could be 40 percent during the peak.
Will there be enough medical and hospital care during a pandemic?
There is likely to be a shortage of medical and hospital care even though only 50 percent
of those who are sick will seek care.
Which groups will have the greatest mortality?
The greatest mortality will be among infants, elderly, pregnant women, and persons with
chronic medical conditions. However, in the 1918 Spanish flu epidemic, it was young
adults aged 20B50 and pregnant women who were most susceptible and most likely to
What is a quarantine, and what would happen if one is ordered?
Quarantine is a period of isolation of an infected group ordered to control the spread of an
infectious disease. An entire community or state can be quarantined. Before the era of
antibiotics, quarantine was one of the few available means for halting the spread of
infectious diseases. It is still employed as needed.
What can be done to minimize the spread to other family members? What is
Anyone who is feeling sick should be asked to limit their contact with others—stay home
from work, school, and other public gatherings.
Isolate family members who are infected with flu.
The person who is ill should stay in his or her own room, with a minimum number of others in the family entering the room.
The sick person should cover his or her cough with tissue and throw it away. Use a surgical mask for the ill person and for those giving their direct care.
Frequently wash hands with soap and running water.
Wash dishes, bed linens, towels, and clothes in hot, soapy water. Dry on high heat.
If a community is quarantined, what should families be prepared with to manage
during this time?
Any locality quarantined would be asked to depend mostly on its own resources.
People would be asked to stay home if they are ill and to keep their children at home, too.
All would be asked to avoid large gatherings or shopping during peak times.
Basic family needs during this time would include:
Ready-to-eat canned meats, fruits, vegetables, and soups
What things would you need to care for members of your family who are sick?
What should be in a Family Home Health Center?
to provide self-care instructions.
Special needs (medicines and supplies) such as for babies or chronic diseases like
Fever medicines like acetaminophen or ibuprofen (not aspirin for those under 21)
Fluid and electrolyte replacements like Pedialyte and Gatorade (these can be made: see Healthwise Handbook
for the recipe)
Tissues, garbage bags, toilet paper, disposable diapers, disposable gloves, surgical masks.
What about using masks?
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) does not recommend the routine use of surgical
masks to protect well people in public. CDC does recommend the use of masks in health
care-related situations, by people with high risk for complications, by people with
symptoms, and by people caring for ill people/family members.
What are some longer-term things people can do to reduce the probability that they
will get any type of flu?
Standard things help, like eating a diet that meets the recommended daily requirements;
maintaining adequate daily activity; getting enough sleep; not smoking; taking anti-viral
drugs; getting immunized if available; taking other medicines such as diabetes medicine
as recommended; etc.
Is it safe to eat poultry now?
Yes. There is no avian influenza now. Cooking destroys the virus. No poultry is allowed
in from countries reporting avian influenza now.
What about hunting, handling, and eating waterfowl?
If handled, use rubber, disposable gloves.
May not be best thing to eat at this time.
Listen to what public health authorities tell you to do because things change.
Avian influenza (bird flu)
Flu Fact Sheets for Texas Families
General Flu Information for Families
Carol A. Rice, PhD, R.N.
Professor and Extension Health Specialist
Educational programs of Texas Cooperative Extension are open to all people without regard to race, color, sex, disability, religion, age, or national origin.
The Texas A&M University System, U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the County Commissioners Courts of Texas Cooperating
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