Influenza is a contagious disease that may be prevented by immunization. It is caused by a virus that affects the respiratory tract (nose, throat, and lungs). Influenza symptoms develop quickly in the form of fever, headache, tiredness, dry cough, sore throat, nasal congestion, and body aches. Seasonal influenza is typically seen during the winter months in Wisconsin and is not the same as Pandemic Influenza or Avian Influenza (Bird Flu).
Avian Influenza (Bird Flu)
Avian flu is caused by avian influenza viruses. The current strain of avian flu is called H5N1and is now circulating in Africa, Asia, Europe, and the Middle East. Flu viruses occur naturally among birds, the viruses are carried in their intestines generally without causing illness. However, bird flu is very contagious among birds and can make some domesticated birds, including chickens, ducks, and turkeys very sick and can kill them.
Pandemic flu occurs when a new influenza virus appears or emerges in the human population and causes a global outbreak of the disease, resulting in serious illness as it spreads from person to person. Pandemic flu has occurred naturally throughout history. There have been three pandemics in the last 100 years:
1918 - 1919: "Spanish flu"
1956 - 1958: "Asian flu"
1968 - 1969: "Hong Kong flu"
Pandemics are unpredictable and it is hard to know when one will occur, what type of flu (i.e. Avian or bird flu) it will be, and how severe it will be. A flu pandemic could cause many deaths and severe illnesses, disrupt some parts of daily life, and limit the amount of health and other services available. Gatherings of people might be limited to control the spread of the disease (schools and businesses may close, sporting events could be cancelled, and transportation could be limited). Additionally, hospitals could be overloaded if doctors and nurses are sick. There may be more people with the flu than the hospitals can accommodate. In this case, some people would need to be cared for in their homes or other places.