A pandemic is defined as a global disease outbreak. An influenza type pandemic occurs when a new influenza virus emerges with the following characteristics: humans have little or no immunity, the virus causes serious illness and it spreads easily from person-to-person.
The best known pandemic in recent history occurred in 1918. This pandemic was able to spread across the world in less than two months and caused more than 20 million deaths. That event happened when the fastest means of crossing between continents was by ship. With modern air travel, a pandemic could cross the world in a matter of weeks, again causing millions of deaths.
The cause for our current concern is that recently discovered strains of avian influenza show the potential to cross over into humans and create a new, deadly influenza strain, to which we have no effective treatment or vaccine.
Since December 2003, the World Health Organization (WHO) has received reports of confirmed cases of humans infected with avian influenza A (H5N1) in Asia. Although the human cases are thought to have resulted from direct exposure to infected live poultry or their contaminated environment, limited human-to-human transmission may be possible. The exposure of humans to on going poultry outbreaks is a grave concern. It enhances the potential for avian influenza A (H5N1) viruses to undergo genetic changes. It is also possible for the virus to recombine with human influenza viruses and result in a new virus that is easily transmitted human-to-human, thus triggering an influenza pandemic.
It is the consensus of the public health community that another pandemic is a matter of when, not if. It has been suggested by public health professionals, based on historical data, that the age group to be most seriously effected will be in the 16 to 24 age group. Though this is not guaranteed, since this age group represents a significant portion of our student population, it is imperative we develop a procedure to assist those who become ill and to protect our personnel who will have to interact with them.