Epidemics & Pandemic Threats: Implications and Ethical Preparedness for Pandemic Influenza

Influenza epidemics, also known as seasonal flu, occur annually and are the most common emerging infection among humans. These epidemics have major medical impacts, but they are generally not fatal except in certain groups such as the elderly.

Pandemics, on the other hand, happen once every few decades on average. They occur when a new subtype of influenza A arises that has either never circulated in the human population or has not circulated for a very long time (so that most people do not have immunity against the virus). The new subtype often causes serious illness and death, even among healthy individuals, and can spread easily through the human population.

The global influenza pandemic remains a real threat despite progress made over the past 10 years in increasing the worldwide supply of flu vaccines.  Yet despite the legacy of the 1918 “Spanish flu,” estimated to have killed at least 20 million people and the additional deaths, social disruption, and economic losses that resulted from pandemics in 1957 and 1968, the general public appears relatively unconcerned about the next “killer flu.” Depending on its severity, an influenza pandemic could result in 200,000 to 2 million deaths in the United States alone. Emerging and re-emerging epidemic diseases pose an ongoing threat to global health security. The WHO’s twelth general programme of work sets the reduction of “mortality, morbidity and societal disruption resulting from epidemics, through prevention, preparedness, response and recovery activities” as one of its five strategic imperatives. The department of pandemic and epidemic diseases (PED) develops strategies, initiatives, mechanisms to address priority thereby reducing their impact on affected populations and limiting their international spread.

  • Public health emergency preparedness
  • Seasonal versus Pandemic flu

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