Canadian federal, provincial and territory governments have collaborated to prepare a national Canadian Pandemic Influenza Plan to deal with a pandemic flu outbreak.
What is a Flu Pandemic?
A pandemic is an epidemic that spreads rapidly around the world with high rates of illness and death. While people are exposed to different strains of the flu virus many times in their lives, about three or four times every century a radically different strain of flu causes a pandemic. Although no one can predict the timing, scientists say that a flu pandemic is inevitable and imminent.
The Canadian Pandemic Influenza Plan
The Canadian Pandemic Influenza Plan outlines the roles and responsibilities of all levels of governments in Canada so that there can be a coordinated response to a flu pandemic. The plan's goal is to reduce the impact a flu pandemic would have on Canadians, first by minimizing illness and death, and secondly by minimizing the social disruptions a flu pandemic might cause.
All provinces and territories in Canada will use the pandemic flu plan to develop their own emergency plans. The pandemic flu plan is designed primarily for government health departments, public health officials and emergency and health care workers.
The pandemic flu plan covers three major areas:
- prevention - surveillance programs and the infrastructure to manufacture vaccines for a flu pandemic
- preparedness - includes the preparation of detailed plans. Looks at the current status and future requirements of activities such as vaccine programs and public health measures.
- response and implementation - activities to control a flu pandemic.
The recovery section of the plan is under development.
Vaccines and Antiviral Drugs
Vaccination of susceptible individuals will be a primary line of defence against a flu pandemic in Canada. Health Canada has contracted with a supplier, Shire Biologics, to make the vaccine and identified the order in which Canadians would get the vaccine - health care workers and essential services personnel first. However it takes about two or three months to develop a flu vaccine for a new strain of flu virus, so vaccinations would not be available right away. It could take up to a year to make enough vaccine for all Canadians.
Canada currently has a stockpile of antiviral drugs. Federal and provincial governments are contributing money to stockpile about 16 million doses. Antiviral drugs are used in the first 48 hours after a person has been infected with the flu, and can reduce the symptoms and length of illness.
What to Do to Avoid the Flu
Health Canada says that prevention is the best defence against the flu. To protect yourself against the flu, the health department recommends that you
- get an annual flu shot
- wash your hands frequently
- stay home if you are sick.