What is a Pandemic?
The word pandemic comes from Greek pandemos: of all the people, occurring over a wide geographic area and affecting an exceptionally high proportion of the population. The Spanish Flu in 1918 caused 50 million deaths and infected half of the world population. History has shown that pandemics move in cycles, they reoccur over periods of time, approximately every 10-40 years.
What is the Current Risk of a Pandemic?
The current concern with pandemic risk is due to a recently discovered unique strain of influenza virus. This “Avian Flu” virus associated with poultry in Asia has spread to at least 65 humans with a 70% mortality rate. Presently, the virus spread has been limited to “poultry-to-human” transmission. The pandemic risk would increase substantially if the virus were to acquire the capacity for efficient human-to-human transmission.
The World Health Organization monitors this situation very closely and provides regular status reports. These reports are a useful tool used by health agencies world wide in maintaining an appropriate state of pandemic preparedness. This monitoring will also provide some warning time before an outbreak reaches North America.
Of particular concern is an unusual strain of influenza that humans do not have a built-in working immunity for and is highly contagious via airborne particles. Each flu virus is unique, therefore medical experts can only develop and begin production of a vaccine once the virus has infected humans and has been identified. This means there will be a period of human-to-human transmission prior to the availability of a vaccine. Antiviral drugs offer some protection but supplies are limited.
How is a Pandemic Virus Transmitted?
General influenza is transmitted by:
- Inhaling infected airborne particles from someone coughing or sneezing.
- Touching something that is recently infected then touching one’s eyes, nose or mouth.
The influenza virus can survive on hard surfaces for 24-48 hours, on softer surfaces for 8-12 hours, and on hands for up to 5 minutes.
Period of communicability:
- 24 hours before onset of symptoms
- 3-5 days after onset of symptoms
How can we break the chain of transmission?
- Practice good hand washing habits. Wash your hands regularly - especially before and after using the bathroom, eating, or touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Lather for at least 20 seconds. Regular soap and warm water is all that is necessary.
- When coughing or sneezing, cough or sneeze into a tissue or, if not available, away from others and not into your hands.
- Practice social distance (2 meters) when you or others around you are sick.
- Teach your children and friends about good hygiene habits.
- Boost your immune system by eating a healthy well-rounded diet including fruits and vegetables, drink plenty of water and get solid rest and regular exercise.
What Should We Do in the Event of a Pandemic Warning?
If Health Officials have issued a Pandemic warning and you have the following signs and symptoms:
- High fever AND
- Cough, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing AND
- Recent travel to areas/countries with high numbers of flu patients OR
- Have handled poultry or wild birds/fowl
Call your family physician to make an appointment or call the BC Nurse line at 604-215-4700, for the deaf or hearing-impaired call 1-866-889-4700.
Protect yourself by frequently washing your hands with soap and warm water and avoid groups of people.
If you or someone in your household has the above symptoms, that person may be restricted to home isolation. People who have been in contact with someone who has the flu may be requested to be voluntarily quarantined. You will be given instructions about how to deal with both isolation and quarantine.
How Should We Prepare?
Pandemics are somewhat different than other disasters. There is usually some warning before a pandemic arrives locally if it originates outside of North America. A pandemic is likely to last for several weeks or months and may come in waves requiring ongoing response. Health care and emergency services workers will be affected not only in their increased volume of calls, but they too will suffer a loss of available workforce, as a large portion of our population may be unable to attend work. Unlike a forest fire or flood, we cannot count on our neighbouring communities to assist us during a pandemic disaster, as their community will be affected as well.
In Richmond, we need to be self-sufficient as a City, community and as individuals to care for one another in the event of a Pandemic, as our health care system may well be overwhelmed.
For more information, please visit the following websites:
World Health Organization
Ministry of Health
BC Centre for Disease Control
Vancouver Coastal Health
Seasonal Flu Information
For information regarding seasonal flu, please visit the following website: