The recent human swine flu scare has many health professionals and civilians reeling. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) and the World Health Organization have six levels of alert for pandemics as well as advice for helping individuals stay healthy during the crisis. Understanding the six alert levels of pandemics is an important step in staying informed about the health problem.
Swine Flu Phases
Swine Flu Information from the Center for Disease Control offers insight into the nature of pandemics as well as the six alert levels.
Influenza viruses are common among many animals and birds tend to be among the most affected. This appears to be the source of many flu outbreaks among people. The swine flu has bridged from animal to humans, making it of particular concern.
Phase One involves animals exclusively. During this phase of influenza outbreaks, no reports of the illness in humans are reported. However, the imminent threat of bridging from animals to humans is looming.
Phase Two involves the infection of a human with the influenza virus. The circulation of the illness among humans increases the alert level as to suggest that there is a potential pandemic brewing. This is not to suggest that the threat will come to fruition.
Phase Three involves small clusters of influenza outbreaks among animals and people. The disease has not been transmitted on a community level, but people in close contact with affected individuals are at risk for catching the virus. The transmissions are not intense enough to create a pandemic during this stage.
Phase Four involves community outbreaks that require containment as well as urgent actions taken by the government. Stage four is not a pandemic level, but it is an alert that the possibility of a pandemic outbreak is increasingly possible.
Phase Five signals that a pandemic is approaching. This stage is characterized by the spread of the virus between humans in at least two countries in the World Health Organization regions. During this stage, governments organize and implement a plan of action. Phase Six is the official pandemic stage. Community outbreaks are in at least one country in a different WHO region as well as in at least two in the same WHO region. A worldwide pandemic is apparent during this phase.
Post Peak and Post Pandemic Periods
Following Phase Six is a post peak period that involves a drop in the number of illnesses. This does not mean that the pandemic is over because the influenza virus may appear in waves. During the post pandemic period, the number of illnesses falls to normal range. Governments continue to monitor the situation as they enter the recovery phase. Staying Healthy Staying healthy during any stage of a pandemic is very challenging, especially for people who travel. The CDC suggests: • Wash hands frequently • Throw used tissues away immediately • Always cover mouth when sneezing or coughing • Try to keep hands away from your face • Avoid contact with affected people • Avoid traveling unless it is absolutely necessary It is very important to stay home if you are ill, even if the illness is not related to the influenza outbreak. A compromised immune system is easily susceptible to catching the disease.