This section contains frequently asked questions about pandemic flu and the need to prepare. For basic information on pandemic influenza, review the HHS/CDC pandemic flu FAQs at PandemicFlu.gov
- Is a pandemic really going to happen? When?
Leading scientists agree that we do face another pandemic. Preparing for this is a challenge, however, because the timing is not known, and the virus is not known. Preparation for a pandemic is very much like an insurance policy – if you don't use it next week or next month or next year, you still have the peace of mind knowing that you are prepared; but if you need it, you really need it. The important thing is to start preparing now.
- The last 2 pandemics we had were in 1957 and 1968, and it doesn't seem like they were any big deal. More people sick, maybe, but no one lost their electricity and stores stayed open, anyhow. Why do you think the coming pandemic may be MORE severe?
The flu pandemics in 1957 and 1968 were mild, and not memorable by today's news standards. Many scientists are concerned because a leading candidate for the next pandemic – the H5N1 "bird flu virus" – is so deadly. Currently, more than 60% of those infected have died.
H5N1 does NOT yet have the capability of sustained transmission from person to person. The H5N1 virus HAS met the first two criteria of a pandemic. If it mutates to achieve sustained transmission from person-to-person, we will have a pandemic.
The question is how severe or deadly the virus will be after this mutation. We will not know until after a pandemic begins. While we hope H5N1 will lose its virulence, leading flu scientists say it doesn’t have to. And it would have to become 30 times less lethal than it is now in order to reach the 2% fatality rate of the 1918 pandemic.
- Isn't this just like Y2K? All that worry and build up, and in the end, everything was just fine.
The Year 2000 computer bug was an electronic threat. It was a real problem that was averted because thousands of programmers worked millions of hours fixing computer code over a span of 5 years. Billions of dollars were spent to fix the problem. When there was no crisis on January 1, 2000, many reported it as a “non-event.”
In reality, governments and businesses did not know until after New Year's Eve, that their efforts had averted a crisis. In hindsight, things didn't crash because we met the problem head-on and worked to mitigate its impact.
| Avian Influenza
|A problem generated by humans
|A problem generated by nature, though aggravated by human activity
| A threat to the functionality of computers and thus to the systems that support us
|A threat to our very lives and thus also to the systems that support us
| A preparedness challenge with a hard deadline: December 31, 1999
|A preparedness challenge with an uncertain deadline
| A problem universally recognized, such that solving it became a common goal
|A threat we must act upon despite all its unpredictability
| A big but finite problem with a defined solution: fixing specific lines of code on millions of computers
|A moving target of a problem, multiplying exponentially in birds and constantly mutating, with no clearly defined solution
| A potential global disaster averted
|A potential global disaster we may well lack the power to avert and thus must prepare to mitigate through preparedness
- Why can't I wait until we know a pandemic is actually STARTING before I stock up?
At the beginning of a pandemic, there will be a run on supplies because everyone will be shopping at once. Grocery stores actually carry only about three days' worth of food. There are no warehouses on site; resupplying, in many cases, requires goods to be delivered from overseas and then trucked to local stores. However, in our "Just-In-Time" economy, the supply pipelines we depend on will quickly be exhausted. There are just not enough goods on hand in the world at any given time to supply each person in the U.S. with an instant 3-month stockpile of necessities.
As a society and as individuals, we must prepare now, before the pandemic starts.
- OK, 1918 was a bad pandemic. But we have MUCH better medical care now, and better communication. Won't those help us? Don't we have lots of Tamiflu and other antivirals to treat you when you get sick with the flu. And we have antibiotics nowadays, and ventilators to help people with flu-related pneumonia breathe, and excellent hospitals.
We do not have enough doctors and nurses, hospital beds, or ventilators to handle a pandemic. H5N1 is already starting to become resistant to Tamiflu. Tamiflu has to be given within hours of onset of the flu. If there is an outbreak of pandemic flu, you might not be able to get Tamiflu in time or at all.
- Didn't bird flu go away? Isn't it all just media hype?
No, it didn't go away. "Bird Flu" was in the news a lot in 2005, and there were some scary headlines and some movies; but then a pandemic didn't happen.
But H5N1 continues to be a threat and continues to spread. In birds, it has been found in countries ranging from China to England and continues to sicken and kill people. It has been transmitted human to human and even human to human to human.
- Only 300+ people worldwide have been infected with H5N1. Compare that to enormous amounts of people who die of other diseases every year. Aren't those the bigger concerns?
Our concern for a potential influenza pandemic does not reduce concern about other deadly diseases. But we recognize that an influenza pandemic can be both deadly and highly contagious.
Influenza is one of the fastest spreading viruses known to man. It has a long history of causing pandemics, often severe ones. No other disease has the proven capacity to spread around the world in a matter of months.
- Isn't bird flu just a disease that birds get? If I don't raise chickens in my back yard, why should I worry?
All influenza A viruses come from birds. Birds are the natural reservoir for influenza A. At times, an influenza A virus in birds will adapt to infect humans easily. Then, we get a pandemic. This is the trend we are seeing with H5N1.
Recently human-to-human transmission has been confirmed by the World Health Organization, and it is strongly suspected in numerous clusters of infections cases.
- How can I possibly afford to stockpile more than a week's worth of food and supplies?
Your family depends on you to care for them, and food is one way you care for them. You can do this. By buying in bulk, cooking more from scratch, and planning meals in advance, you may find that it is actually cheaper in the long run to build up a larger pantry than you are used to having. See Downloads for further information.
- If my family is placed in quarantine during a pandemic outbreak, or movement restrictions cut off my neighborhood, town, or city from supplies , won't FEMA or our state or local government have to provide us with food and supplies?
No, very likely not. In a pandemic outbreak, every area will be affected at roughly the same time, and resources will be limited. While there may be some help from your community during the initial outbreak (depending on how well community leaders have planned), we suggest you do not bet your life on it. It is your responsibility to feed yourself and your family.
- Why are schools going to close for 3 months in a severe pandemic? Isn't that an overreaction, even for a deadly flu?
Schools will be closed because that is the best way to control the spread of the flu. Children shed the influenza virus for more days than adults do, and they share their germs more readily than adults do. The school day finds them crowded together, mixing and mingling, on the school bus, in classrooms, hallways and lunchrooms, as well as outside on the playground.
- Our school district's pandemic plan is to not close schools until the illness actually reaches our town and 10% of the children in school are sick. But my brother's school district plans to close at the first sign of pandemic flu anywhere in the state. Whose school has it right?
Your brother's school plan is the more cautious one and in our opinion the one that will do a better job of protecting children and preventing spread of the flu in your community.
By the time that children are sick in the school, YOUR children will have been exposed to a potentially deadly pandemic. Some school systems realize this, some do not. It is your responsibility to decide if you want to take that risk with your children. We recommend you contact your school system to encourage them to close the schools more quickly. Closing schools a few days earlier can save many lives if the pandemic is severe, both within the school AND within the greater community, as the schools are not open to act as incubators for the disease.
It is your right to remove your child from school or day care whenever you believe it is best, regardless of the official policy of the school district. Research your options now, including procedures for homeschooling if need be.
- Isn't there a vaccine for this?
The vaccines you have read about in press releases are pre-pandemic vaccines in development. Researchers base them on currently circulating strains of the H5N1 virus, hoping that the resulting vaccine will provide at least some protection against whatever pandemic strain evolves. Their effectiveness is not guaranteed, because they can't be precisely tailored to protect against a virus substrain that does not yet exist. Once a pandemic flu strain emerges, it will take 6-12 months to develop and produce vaccine enough for ONLY the front line workers and other groups of people who have been deemed essential. By the time the vaccine is available for everyone, the first wave of the pandemic will be over.
- Why won’t we have enough vaccine for everyone in 6 months?
A majority of our vaccines are made in other countries. During a pandemic, expect each country will think of its own citizens first. We currently have 2 vaccine plants and they are run by private companies. Making a vaccine from chicken eggs takes time; most vaccine companies manufacture seasonal flu vaccine and only a small portion of the US population gets the seasonal flu vaccine, so the production capacity to manufacture vaccines for all the people in the US isn't there.
- What will happen if I or a member of my family gets sick or hurt during a pandemic? Will doctors and hospitals be able to take care of us? My child has asthma – if he has an attack, will the hospital be able to care for him?
One important preparation for a pandemic is to take charge of your own health. During a pandemic, you can expect health care to be more difficult (if not impossible) to obtain.
It is very likely that, during a pandemic, you will need to care for your own ill family members at home. You should prepare for this responsibility. Start now by assembling supplies you will need and by learning the necessary skills. See our page on Special Concerns: Chronic Medical Conditions for more information.
- How can I prepare without being a worrier? I don’t want to live my life in fear. If a pandemic happens, it happens. What can I do about it?
If you own a home, you probably have fire insurance, fire extinguishers, and smoke alarms. You don't live your life in fear of your house burning down; you don't say "If it happens, it happens – there's nothing I can do." The possibility exists, so you take reasonable precautions to prepare yourself in the event it happens.
Preparing for a pandemic is like having fire insurance. If you need it, you will REALLY need it.
- Why should I bother preparing? I have friends/neighbors/relatives who are always prepared for emergencies. Surely they won't turn me away if I need help? I'll just go over to THEIR place if this thing really happens.
No one can prepare for you better than you can for yourself. It is YOUR responsibility to care for yourself and your family. You know your own medical and dietary needs. You know your own lifestyle and employment and childcare issues. In addition, even if your friends or neighbors wanted to help you out, you or they may be under movement restrictions or quarantine.
It would be foolish to neglect your own retirement plans, expecting your neighbor or relative to save for you. In the same way, you must not rely on others to prepare for you in the event of a pandemic or other extended emergency.
A secure community is based upon resilient, prepared households. Though "we'll all help each other out" sounds reasonable in a short-term emergency, for a prolonged emergency of uncertain duration, you must not count on or expect others to provide for you, lest their own supplies run out before the crisis ends. Your community must pull together NOW and help each other prepare.
If you are fortunate enough to have a friend, relative, or neighbor who is experienced in preparing for emergencies and resiliency, ask them for advice! Learn from them NOW to help you get your own household and your community prepared.
- Does your group have any specific recommendations on preparedness products? Do you recommend one type of lamp or radio over any other?
No. We do not endorse any products, and this is not a commercial website. For questions about specific preparedness items, we recommend that you visit one of the many citizen-driven flu forums, dedicated to discussion of pandemic influenza and how to prepare. There you can find detailed information and ask questions. You can find a list of these forums on the links section of our homepage.