Lessons from the Past?
The Dangers of a Pandemic Flu
Paula Arrubla-DiGrigoli and Colette Oduy Joseph, from the Collier County Health Department, gave a presentation on pandemic flu to members of the Marco Island Noontime Rotary at the Marco Island Yacht Club in August 2006.
Joseph gave examples of past pandemics. In 1918, there was the Spanish flu, which affected 40 percent of the world population and originated in Kansas. In 1957, there were 70,000 deaths in the United States because of the Asian flu.
She explained the difference between seasonal flu and pandemic flu. Seasonal flu occurs every year during the winter and most people recover in one to two weeks. Pandemic flu occurs infrequently, maybe three times each century, and can occur any time of year.
The flu virus is not always considered airborne and is also transferred through touch. For example, if a person with the flu sneezes into his or her hand and then touches a door knob and someone else touches that same knob it can lead to them becoming unwell.
Since the flu is a virus, it needs a host such as a bird or human. For example avian, or bird flu, is caused by influenza viruses that occur naturally among wild birds.  A pandemic flu is virulent and causes a global outbreak.
The World Health Organization has developed a system of identifying where the world stands with regard to pandemic flu. Because a pandemic flu would be worldwide, she said, we need to be prepared to help ourselves.
During her presentation, Arrubla-DiGrigoli warned that when the first human is found with a pandemic flu, there will be as little as 30 days before it spreads worldwide.
When we develop an antivirus, we also need to determine now who would receive a vaccine if it is in limited supply and also how people would need to be in voluntary isolation to keep it from spreading.
To avoid contracting the flu, she said to wash hands frequently, cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze, use a tissue and stay home if you have flu symptoms.  Also thoroughly wash eating utensils, avoid close contact with family members who are sick.
She said everyone should also get an annual flu shot.
Receiving proper education from health and emergency officials is just the first step in heightening awareness and preparing in advance.