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Surviving the next H1N1 pandemic: common questions answered

Red Cross Emergency Ambulance Station during the influenza pandemic of 1918, photo from an exhibit of the US National Archives
Red Cross Emergency Ambulance Station during the influenza pandemic of 1918, photo from an exhibit of the US National Archives
National Archives / Library of Congress

Every year as the flu season arrives, reports of serious flu activity start comparisons to the H1N1 influenza of 2009, and other past pandemics.

Here are some common questioned answered to help you better understand the news and reports on flu activity .

What is a pandemic?

When a new influenza virus emerges, the human population has little to no immunity against it. The virus spreads quickly from person-to-person creating a global disease outbreak known as a pandemic.

According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) a pandemic is determined by how the disease spreads, not how many deaths it causes.

What is the H1N1 virus?

The H1N1 virus is currently a seasonal flu virus.

When it was discovered in 2009, the H1N1 virus was referred to as Swine Flu because the virus itself was similar to those found in pigs. Contrary to urban legends you can not get Swine Flu from eating properly handled and cooked pork or pork products.

In 2009, the H1N1 flu virus spread to 74 countries causing a world-wide pandemic. The CDC estimates that 43 million to 89 million people had H1N1 during the 2009 pandemic.

What is the potential of a deadly a flu pandemic?

The deadly Spanish flu of 1918 was one of the worst pandemics of all time. An exhibit of the US National Archives puts the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918 it into perspective.

"The influenza epidemic that swept the world in 1918 killed an estimated 50 million people. One fifth of the world's population was attacked by this deadly virus. Within months, it had killed more people than any other illness in recorded history."

The photo in this article from the US National Archives shows a Red Cross Emergency Ambulance Station during the influenza pandemic of 1918.

Can the yearly seasonal flu be deadly?

Yes, the flu can kill you. Most people who get influenza will recover in a few days to less than two weeks. But every year many people die from seasonal flu or its complications.

Deaths caused by the flu are reported in number ranges rather than exact numbers. Many people do not die from the flu itself, but often die from complications caused by bacteria, such as pneumonia. Complications of seasonal flu also include worsening of chronic medical conditions, such as congestive heart failure, asthma, or diabetes.

How can getting the flu be prevented?

The CDC recommends a yearly flu vaccine as the first and most important step in protecting against flu viruses. Do your homework and learn the key facts about seasonal flu vaccines available at local clinics and pharmacies. Many employers may make special arrangements to make flu shots available.

Maintaining a clean home and lifestyle will help prevent the flu. Germs are spread when a person touches something that is contaminated. Wash your hands often and avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth with dirty hands. If soap and water are not available use an alcohol hand rub for washing hands.

Avoid close contact with people who are sick. Linens, eating utensils, and dishes belonging to those who are sick should not be shared without washing thoroughly first. Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces.

Germs attack weak bodies. Drink plenty of fluids, eat healthy food. Get plenty of sleep, stay physically active.

The advice offered here is a brief summary of the many tips available from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Plan to survive

Do not take the flu lightly. Like any aspect of disaster survival, the more you know, and the better you prepare, increase your odds of survival.

When the question is asked, could this be the next big pandemic? You answer should be, if it is, you're prepared!


Want to learn more?

Check out the suggested by the author links below to previous articles on pandemic fears.

Do you have tips to share on how you prepare for flu season? Connect with Tom Peracchio on social media... @Gu42 on Twitter , Guru42 on Google+ or Guru42 on Facebook.

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