Should you be worried about a Flu Pandemic?

     There has been much in the news recently about influenza and concerns about the potential of a flu pandemic.  The flu is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses. It can cause mild to severe illness and, at times, can lead to death. The best way to prevent it is to get a flu vaccination each fall.
Every year in the United States, on average:
  • 5% to 20% of the population gets the flu
  • More than 200,000 people are hospitalized from flu complications
  • About 36,000 people die from flu
      Some people, such as older people, young children, and people with certain health conditions, are at high risk for serious flu complications.
     Complications of flu can include pneumonia, dehydration, and worsening of chronic medical conditions, such as congestive heart failure, asthma, or diabetes. Children may get sinus problems and ear infections.
     Flu viruses are spread in respiratory droplets caused by coughing and sneezing. They usually spread from person to person, though sometimes people become infected by touching something with flu viruses on it and then touching their mouth or nose.
     Most healthy adults may be able to infect others beginning 1 day before symptoms develop and up to 5 days after becoming sick. That means that you can pass on the flu to someone else before you know you are sick, as well as while you are sick. Flu season can begin as early as October and last as late as May.
    A flu pandemic is an outbreak of a “new” influenza virus that spreads rapidly around the world. It is a more serious infection for everyone and people at every age are at risk. 
Historically, the 20th century saw 3 pandemics of influenza:
  • 1918: at least 500,000 U.S. deaths and up to 40 million deaths worldwide
  • 1957: at least 70,000 U.S. deaths and 1-2 million deaths worldwide
  • 1968: caused about 34,000 U.S. deaths and 700,000 deaths worldwide 
What is the Avian flu:
     Influenza viruses that infect primarily birds are called “Avian influenza virus.” Currently, the Avian flu (H5N1) virus is spreading among poultry (mainly chickens) in Asia and Europe. H5N1 virus does not usually infect people, but more than 130 human cases have been reported since January 2004. Most of these people had direct or close contact with infected poultry or contaminated surfaces; however, a few cases of human-to-human spread of H5N1 have occurred.  
     So far, the spread of H5N1 virus from person to person has been rare and has not continued beyond one person. Nonetheless, because all flu viruses can change, scientists are concerned that H5N1 one day could be able to infect humans and spread easily from one person to another. 
     No one can predict when a pandemic might occur. However, experts from around the world are watching the H5N1 situation in Asia and Europe very closely and are preparing for the possibility that the virus may begin to spread more easily and widely from person to person.
The following are measures currently underway to be prepared:
  • Poultry is being monitored
  • Pharmacies are stock piling (increasing stock of antivirals)
  • Labs are being trained to test for virus
  • New vaccine is being developed
      University Health System and the San Antonio Metropolitan Health Department are following CDC guidelines and providing local surveillance for flu infections, so the community can be informed of outbreaks.
Here is what you can do:
  • Get vaccinated for the seasonal flu
  • Practice good hand hygiene
  • Cover your nose and mouth when you cough.
  • Throw your used tissues directly in the trash can, then wash your hands
  • If you feel sick, stay home and away from other  
For further information visit the CDC flu homepage at
How can you tell if you have a cold or the flu? 
If you’ve ever had the flu – you definitely know the difference.
Signs and Symptoms:
> 101 ° F, lasting 3 to 4 days
None or < 101 ° F
Dry, sometimes severe
Myalgias (muscle pain)
Usual, often severe
Uncommon or mild
Tiredness & Weakness
Lasting 2 to 3 weeks
Very mild and brief
Extreme exhaustion
Early and prominent
Chest discomfort
Uncommon or mild
Stuffy nose
Sore Throat