What is Pandemic Influenza?

September 17, 2008

Pandemic flu occurs when a new influenza virus appears or emerges in the human population and causes a global outbreak of the disease, resulting in serious illness as it spreads from person to person for which people have little or no immunity, and for which there is no vaccine. While people are exposed to different strains of the flu virus many times in their lives, about three or four times every century a radically different strain of flu causes a pandemic. For reasons unknown, a radical change takes place in the influenza virus causing a new strain to emerge.[1]

There have been three pandemics in the last 100 years: Spanish flu (1918 – 1919); Asian flu (1956 – 1958); and the Hong Kong flu (1968 – 1969).

Pandemics are unpredictable and it is hard to know when one will occur, what type of flu it will be, and how severe it will be. Although no one can predict the timing, scientists say that a flu pandemic is inevitable and imminent. Wherever and whenever a pandemic starts, everyone around the world is at risk. A pandemic flu could cause many deaths and severe illnesses, disrupt some parts of daily life, and limit the amount of health and other services available.

First Nations people will be especially vulnerable to pandemic flu, given their predisposition and susceptibility to diseases, as a result of their social and economic circumstances. This said, it is important for First Nations to start preparing and planning for the next pandemic in order to better cope and be equipped in responding to a pandemic.

Please note: the H5N1 (Bird Flu) virus does NOT currently exist in Canada or the U.S.A. and, there is no Influenza Pandemic anywhere in the world at this time.

[1] Health Canada (2008). Pandemic Influenza. http://www.influenza.gc.ca/geninfo_e.html

Last updated September 17, 2008 at 9:44 a.m.