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Pandemic Flu

Pandemic Flu

Westchester County’s departments of Health and Emergency Services are ready to respond in the event of a public health crisis in Westchester, including a pandemic or Avian Flu epidemic or outbreak. Below are some frequently asked questions about pandemic and Avian Flu.

  • What is a widespread flu pandemic? An influenza pandemic is a global outbreak of influenza (flu) that occurs when a new strain of flu virus emerges into the human population and spreads quickly from person-to-person.
  • Is Avian or bird Flu the same as pandemic flu? A flu pandemic may be caused by any number of strains of flu virus. Avian Flu strains are just one possibility.
  • What is Avian Flu (also known as bird Flu or Avian Influenza)? Avian Flu is an infection caused by a type of influenza virus carried by birds. Although flu viruses occur naturally among wild birds, most do not kill them. Sometimes, this disease can also spread from wild birds into domestic poultry. There are many strains or types of bird flu. Right now there is a type of bird flu called Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) type H5N1 (also called H5N1 bird flu) that has made many birds and some people sick elsewhere in the world. Avian Flu has not appeared in the Western Hemisphere to date, but it is anticipated to reach North America eventually.
  • How does Avian Flu spread? Infected birds shed flu virus in their saliva, nasal secretions, and feces. Susceptible birds become infected when they come in contact with these secretions. Current cases of avian flu infection in humans have resulted from contact with infected poultry or contaminated surfaces.
  • Do avian flu viruses infect people? Avian flu viruses do not usually infect people, but several cases of human infection with Avian Flu viruses have occurred since 1997.
  • What is the risk to humans from Avian Flu? The risk from Avian Fu is generally low to most people since the viruses occur mainly among birds and do not usually infect people. However, during an outbreak of Avian Fu among poultry (domesticated chicken, ducks, turkeys), there is a possible risk to people who have contact with infected birds or contaminated surfaces. The risk to humans from Avian Fu would greatly increase if the Avian Fu virus were to adapt to humans, making person-to-person spread possible. In such a situation, a widespread flu pandemic could occur.
  • Does a person’s annual flu shot offer protection against a flu pandemic? No, the annual flu shot provides protection from the currently circulating strains of influenza. However, the flu strains currently circulating worldwide among humans are not likely to result in pandemics.
  • Is there a vaccine to protect people from the Avian Fu? A vaccine is currently under development, but is not yet ready for widespread distribution.
  • What are the symptoms of avian flu in humans? Symptoms of Avian Fu in humans have ranged from typical flu-like symptoms (fever, cough, sore throat, and muscle aches) to eye infections, pneumonia, severe respiratory diseases (such as acute respiratory distress), and other severe and life-threatening complications.
  • How is Avian Fu in humans treated? The H5N1 virus that has caused human illness and death in Asia is resistant to amantadine and rimantadine, two antiviral medications commonly used to treat influenza. Two other antiviral medications, oseltamavir and zanamavir, may work to treat influenza caused by H5N1 virus, but additional studies still need to be done to demonstrate their effectiveness.