The 2013 Ontario Health Plan for an Influenza Pandemic is now available.
The Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care has developed the Seasonal Influenza 2011 / 2012: Ontario's Blueprint for Action to outline the actions that the ministry, Public Health Ontario, and the Ministry of Labour are taking to support the health system’s response to seasonal influenza.
An influenza (flu) pandemic spreads easily and rapidly through many countries and regions of the world.
Talk of an influenza pandemic has occupied the media of late. During the 20th century, the world faced three flu pandemics. The most deadly, the "Spanish Flu", killed over 20 million people in 1918 and 1919.
Public health experts tell us that another flu pandemic could happen anytime. They also tell us that if we are prepared, we can reduce the number of people who become infected and the number who die.
And since pandemic flu spreads the same way as seasonal flu – through droplets contained in sneezes and coughs and by hand contact, basic precautions can greatly reduce its spread.
It is important to note that avian influenza is not the same as an Influenza Pandemic. Information on avian influenza is available here.
An influenza pandemic is a flu outbreak distinguished from seasonal influenza by its scope and seriousness. It becomes a worldwide epidemic, or pandemic, when a disease spreads easily and rapidly through many countries and regions of the world and affects a large percentage of the population where it spreads.
The viruses that cause ordinary/seasonal influenza – or “flu” – are constantly changing. An influenza pandemic starts when a new strain of flu virus emerges, and is different from common strains. Because people have no immunity to the new virus, it can spread quickly and infect hundreds of thousands of people. Influenza pandemic strains can develop when an animal or bird virus mixes with a human virus to form a new virus.
Influenza can be contagious for one or even up to two days before any symptoms arise and for five days after the onset of symptoms. This means you could spread the virus without knowing you are infected. In addition the contagious period may be longer in the very young and those with weakened immune system.
An influenza pandemic can appear very similar to the ordinary/seasonal flu. Because people will have little or no immunity to an influenza pandemic virus, the spread of the disease can occur more quickly than with the seasonal flu.
The symptoms are the same: fever, headache, aches and pains, tiredness, stuffy nose, sneezing, sore throat and cough. However, they can be much more severe with a pandemic influenza and affect people who do not normally suffer as much from the seasonal flu – such as younger, healthy adults. For example, in the 1918 and 1919 pandemic, the death rate was highest among healthy adults. It is important to note that the young and old may not have all the usual flu symptoms.
Both ordinary/seasonal flu and an influenza pandemic are spread in the same way. The flu virus is spread when someone infected with the virus coughs or sneezes, and droplets containing the virus come in contact with another person’s nose, mouth or eyes. It can also be spread when people with the virus cough or sneeze into their hands and contaminate things they touch, such as a door handle. Other people can become infected if they touch the same object and then touch their face.
Here is what you should know about an influenza pandemic :
|Ordinary Flu||Influenza Pandemic|
|Seasonal flu happens every year.||An influenza pandemic happens only two or three times a century.|
|Seasonal flu is usually around from November to April – and then stops.||An influenza pandemic usually comes in two or even three waves several months apart. Each wave lasts about two months.|
|About 10% of Ontarians get ordinary seasonal flu each year.||About 35% of Ontarians may get the influenza over the course of the full outbreak.|
|Most people who get seasonal flu will get sick, but they usually recover within a couple of weeks.||About half of the people who get influenza during a pandemic will become ill. Most will recover, but it may take a long time. And some people will die.|
|Seasonal flu is hardest on people who don't have a strong immune system : the very young, the very old, and people with certain chronic illnesses.||People of any age may become seriously ill with influenza during a pandemic. This depends on the virus.|
|In a normal flu season, up to 2,000 Ontarians die of complications from the flu, such as pneumonia.||During an influenza pandemic, Ontario would see many more people infected and possibly many more deaths.|
|There are annual flu shots that will protect people from seasonal flu.||There is no existing vaccine for an influenza pandemic. It will take four to six months after the pandemic starts to develop a vaccine.|
|There are drugs that people can take to treat seasonal flu.||These same drugs may also help people but we will not know their full effectiveness until the virus is identified.|
Yes. It is anticipated that a flu pandemic will make its way around the world within three months.
The World Health Organization and public health experts around the world are watching carefully for the first signs of an influenza pandemic so they can take steps to slow down its spread.
Once an influenza pandemic virus arrives in Ontario, it will likely spread quickly. Many people will become ill, and there will be a lot of pressure on our health care services.
Depending on how widespread the influenza pandemic is, our daily routines will be disrupted from time to time. For example, companies may have to close down some of their operations. Cities may decide to provide essential services only in some areas. Public health officials may cancel public gatherings, such as concerts and sporting events, where the influenza virus can spread easily. They may close schools.
We cannot predict just how Ontario will be affected until we know how strong the virus will be.
We are all at risk of getting an influenza pandemic virus. An influenza pandemic will spread more quickly than ordinary/seasonal influenza because very few Ontarians will be immune. Some groups of people – such as the very young or very old – may be more at risk than others of getting seriously ill or dying.
But everyone must be careful and aware. The 1918 and 1919 influenza pandemic infected and killed mainly healthy young adults in their 20s and 30s.
We won’t know for sure who is most at risk until we know more about the virus.
We cannot predict just how Canada or Ontario will be affected until we know what the type or strength of the virus.
However, once an influenza pandemic arrives in Ontario, many people will become ill, and this will place a lot of pressure on our health care services.
People will see their lives disrupted from time to time. For example, companies/businesses may have to close down some of their operations; cities may decide to provide essential services only in some areas; public health officials may cancel public gatherings, such as concerts and sporting events; and schools may close. The degree for disruption will largely depend on the severity of illness caused by the virus and how widespread the virus is.
There are drugs known as antivirals that can treat influenza infection. Right now, Ontario has a stockpile of antiviral drugs for the province, with plans to increase this stock to treat 25% of Ontario’s population in 2007-08 – as recommended by the World Health Organization.
Once scientists identify the influenza pandemic virus, work can start on developing the influenza pandemic vaccine. We are lucky in Canada, because a vaccine will be produced here and thus able to get distributed faster.
The faster we learn about a specific strain of the influenza flu virus, the faster we can produce a vaccine that can help to prevent its spread. It’s important to remember that it will take time to do this, and our best defence is being prepared for an influenza pandemic before it occurs.
If an influenza pandemic spreads to Ontario, you can reduce your risk by doing the same things you do to protect yourself and your family from ordinary/seasonal influenza and other infections :
The Chief Medical Officer of Health and the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care are working with local public health units, primary care providers, hospitals, long-term care homes, home care providers – all parts of the health care system – to prepare for a flu pandemic. Our goal is to limit the spread of an influenza pandemic and provide the health services Ontarians will need.
We are :
We have set up communications systems that are focused, timely and accurate so we can provide regular updates to tell Ontarians how to protect and care for themselves and their families.
We have also developed planning information and guidelines for specific communities beyond the health care sector, including business and faith communities, as well as the general public. Our materials and planning guides are posted on the ministry web site so that they are easily accessible.
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