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Pandemic Influenza

What is pandemic flu (influenza)?

A flu pandemic occurs when a new subtype of flu virus emerges that has not previously circulated in humans.

The present concern is that the current avian flu will change into a form that is highly infectious for humans and spreads easily from person to person. This will mark the start of a global outbreak (a pandemic).

How do pandemic viruses occur?

New influenza viruses emerge as a result of a process called antigenic shift, which causes a sudden and major change in influenza A viruses. These changes occur when proteins on the surface of the virus combine in new ways as a result of mutation or exchange of genetic material between multiple influenza viruses. If such changes result in a new influenza A virus subtype that can infect humans and spread easily from person to person, an influenza pandemic can occur.

Is there a vaccine available for pandemic flu?

No . Vaccines are produced each year for seasonal (normal human) influenza but this will not protect against pandemic influenza. No vaccines are expected to be widely available until several months after the start of a pandemic.

Why won’t the annual flu vaccine protect people against pandemic influenza?

Influenza vaccines are designed to protect against a specific virus, so a pandemic vaccine cannot be produced until a new pandemic influenza virus emerges and is identified. Even after a pandemic influenza virus has been identified, it could take at least 6 months to develop, test and produce vaccine.

What do I do if I am unwell?

Ask yourself these questions.

Is It The Flu?

The most prominent characteristics of the flu are the sudden appearance of a fever (38oC or 100.4oF or more), a dry cough and aching in the body, especially in the head and lower back and legs. Usually the person feels extremely weak and tired and doesn’t want to get out of bed. Other symptoms can be chills, aching behind the eyes, loss of appetite, a sore throat and a runny, stuffy nose. After your symptoms first appear you can spread the virus to others for 4-6 days or more.

What can you do for yourself?

  • Rest – Probably, you will feel very weak and tired until your temperature returns to normal (about three days), and resting will provide comfort and allow your body to use its energy to fight the infection. You should avoid contact with others while the infection is contagious (at least six days after the first symptom appears).
  • Drink plenty of fluids – Extra fluids are needed to replace those lost because of the fever (sweating). If your urine is dark, you need more to drink. Liquids, especially warm ones like chicken soup, help loosen mucus. Try to drink a glass of juice/water or an equal amount of some other fluid every hour while you are awake.
  • Try not to blow your nose as this could send infected secretions into your sinuses. Wipe your nose with disposable tissues and put them in the garbage can immediately. Cover your nose and mouth with tissues when you cough or sneeze and throw them in the garbage as well.
  • Wash your hands often .
  • Do not smoke – it is very irritating to the damaged airways.
  • If you have any questions at all about medications, don’t hesitate to talk to your Doctor.

Generally, people begin to feel better after their temperature returns to normal, in about three days, and are ready to return to their normal activities/work in about a week. It is common for tiredness and a cough to linger on for several more weeks.

How do I get more information about avian influenza?

http://dph.gov.my or you may also approach respective state health departments

Last reviewed : 28 August 2020
Writer : Dr. Christopher Lee
Reviewer : Dr. Nor Faizah bt. Ghazali