An influenza pandemic is a global outbreak of disease that occurs when a new influenza A virus appears in the human population, causes serious human illness, and spreads easily from person to person worldwide.
Because people have little or no immune protection from such new viruses, there can be high levels of illness, death, social disruption, and economic loss. The last major flu pandemic occurred in 1918 and killed as many as 40 million people worldwide, including more than 500,000 in the United States.
The H5N1 avian influenza or "bird flu" covered in the news has not qualified as a pandemic strain of influenza and scientists cannot predict if or when this might happen. However, the virus continues to spread in birds and from birds to some people, so health experts are on high alert.
South Dakota Prepares
South Dakota has developed a pandemic influenza plan that mirrors the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services plan. It was developed by the state Health Department, other state agencies, and health care partners and submitted to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in April 2005. It continues to be revised and updated. South Dakota Pandemic Influenza Plan
Flu Terms Defined
Seasonal (or common) flu is a respiratory illness that can be transmitted person to person. Most people have some immunity and a vaccine is available.
Avian (or bird) flu is caused by influenza viruses that occur naturally among wild birds. The H5N1 variant is deadly to domestic fowl and can be transmitted from birds to humans. There is no human immunity and no vaccine is available.
Pandemic flu is virulent human flu that causes a global outbreak, or pandemic, of serious illness. Because there is little natural immunity, the disease can spread easily from person to person.