What is a Pandemic?
Infectious diseases are disorders caused by organisms such as bacteria, viruses, fungi, or parasites. Many of
these organisms cause disease, and are transmissible from person to person. When an infectious organism is
transmitted in excess of what is normally expected, the result is a disease outbreak. When the disease outbreak
becomes widespread and affects a geographical region, it becomes an epidemic. When the disease outbreak spreads
globally, it becomes a pandemic. While many types of disease are capable of producing a pandemic, influenza
viruses are the most common to spawn pandemics and represent a significant threat to health and wellness.
Seasonal Flu Statistics
"Seasonal flu" or influenza outbreaks that occur annually,
result in numerous hospitalizations and claim many lives.
Outbreaks of flu are common during winter, although they
can happen as early as October and may last until May.
During the 30-year period ending in 2007, annual deaths
have ranged from 3,000 to 49,000 in the United States.
The people most at risk for getting the flu include children
and infants, pregnant women, seniors, people with disabilities,
people with other health concerns, and travelers living abroad.
Flu Viruses Mutate
Influenza type A viruses are responsible for pandemic flu outbreaks. The influenza virus has the ability to mutate
and create a new strain. When a new strain is created, humans do not possess immunity to it and no vaccine exists.
If the strain is virulent and easily transmissible, then a pandemic is possible.
Pandemic Flu History
Since the beginning of the 20th century, there have been four pandemic influenza outbreaks. The most deadly of
the outbreaks was the 1918 to 1919 "Spanish flu." This pandemic caused 20% to 40% of the worldwide population
to become ill, and an estimated 50 million people died. In the United States, 675,000 people died, with 3,688 of
them in Oregon. The other three pandemics claimed many lives in the U.S. – the 1957 to 1958 "Asian flu" resulted
in 69,800 deaths, the 1968 to 1969 "Hong Kong flu" resulted in 33,800 deaths, and the 2009 to 2010 H1N1 "swine flu"
resulted in 12,469 deaths. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the H1N1 outbreak is
estimated to have infected 60.8 million people globally, although estimates as high as 89.3 million have been reported.