Influenza (or flu) is an acute respiratory illness caused by infection with an influenza virus. It can be a serious illness and should not be confused with a cold.
When a flu epidemic spreads across a region or worldwide it is called a pandemic. Pandemic influenza is therefore a worldwide flu epidemic caused by a new influenza strain which spreads easily between humans and which causes serious illness.
History of Pandemics
Influenza pandemics are naturally occurring events, with three having occurred in the 20th Century - in 1918, 1957 and 1968. Of these the 1918 pandemic was by far the most serious resulting in about 40 million deaths worldwide. There will be more pandemics, but when they might occur, how severe they might be, and which age groups they might impact upon cannot be predicted.
Preparing for a Pandemic
The Department of Health and the Health Service Executive published the National Pandemic Influenza Plan as well as the advice of the expert group on pandemic influenza in January 2007.
The public has a key role to play in managing a pandemic and should one become imminent they will be asked to prepare their own personal plans to manage the situation. These will include arrangements for taking care of sick family members, stockpiling essential supplies and minimising the spread of the virus. It is envisaged that a pandemic could lead to very substantial numbers of the workforce becoming ill within a concentrated time.