Pandemic planning in Canada: Myths and facts Charlottetown PE

There's been lots of talk about the threat of an influenza pandemic, 'bird flu', and pandemic planning. Here are a few myths and facts to help clarif ...

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Pandemic planning in Canada: Myths and facts

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(NC)-There's been lots of talk about the threat of an influenza pandemic, 'bird flu', and pandemic planning. Here are a few myths and facts to help clarify any confusion about an influenza pandemic.

Myth: The next influenza pandemic will be Avian Influenza (Bird Flu).

Fact: No one can predict what the pandemic strain of influenza will be, or when a pandemic may happen, but experts are keeping a close watch on the H5N1 virus (Avian or 'bird' Flu), a strain of influenza virus 'A'.

H5N1 has already met two of the three widely-accepted criteria required before an influenza pandemic is declared:

1. A new flu virus strain has emerged; and

2. The virus has spread from birds to humans.

The last criteria before the World Health Organization declares a pandemic is the efficient transmission of the virus from human to human, which has not yet happened at alarming rates. With enough opportunity, the virus could mutate to a form that is capable of this efficient transmission.

Myth: I get my flu shot every year, so I don't need to worry about an influenza pandemic.

Fact: Seasonal flu and an influenza pandemic are not the same thing. Each year, scientists watch to see which combinations of seasonal flu strains are circling the globe. Based on those strains, seasonal flu vaccines are developed to keep Canadians healthy from seasonal influenza.

But an influenza pandemic results from a strain of influenza, to which humans have little or no immunity, widely mutates and spreads across the globe. The only specific medical intervention recommended by the World Health Organization to prevent an influenza pandemic is antivirals. Unlike vaccines, antiviral medications are available now, before the pandemic strain is isolated, and can be used to treat and prevent illness.

Myth: Influenza symptoms are obvious.

Fact: People infected with influenza may be contagious up to 24 hours before any symptoms appear. They may be infectious at work, at home or in the community. For example, family members of those who are ill may not know they've been exposed to the disease until they begin to develop their own symptoms. Since it would be difficult to know for sure if someone has been exposed to the influenza virus, during an influenza pandemic it is imperative to make available antiviral medications as part of a preventative strategy, especially to people who may be exposed to the virus as part of their everyday routine, such as health care workers and emergency responders.

Myth: There are enough antivirals stockpiled to treat and protect all Canadians.

Fact: In Canada, there is a stockpile of antiviral medications dedicated to the treatment of approximately 17 per cent of our population should they become ill. This small amount of stockpiled antivirals puts us second to last for antiviral coverage among the G7 countries. We are the only G7 country that has not officially adopted a policy about the use of antivirals as a preventative measure to help protect against the spread of an influenza pandemic.

Myth: There is a pre-pandemic vaccine and enough has been produced to cover all Canadians.

Fact: The World Health Organization estimates it may take three to six months to develop a vaccine that is effective against a circulating influenza pandemic strain and it could take six to 12 months to produce enough vaccine to protect all Canadians. No influenza pandemic vaccine is currently ready for production and no vaccines are expected to be widely available until several months after the start of a pandemic.

Myth: Infectious disease measures like masks and gowns are enough to prevent the spread of an influenza pandemic.

Fact: Protective equipment including surgical masks, respirators, gowns, gloves and goggles are used inside institutions like hospitals to help stop the spread of infectious disease, and are a good first step - but more can and must be done. To protect against the threat of an influenza pandemic, an arsenal of activities is required to reduce its impact, including infection control measures, antiviral medications, vaccine development, and coordinated planning and communications across public and private sectors, institutions and geographical borders.

Credit: www.newscanada.com