What is a Pandemic?
A pandemic is a global disease outbreak. An influenza or flu pandemic occurs when a new flu virus emerges and people have little or no immunity against it. The virus spreads easily from person-to-person, and for some it may cause serious illness, even death.
Pandemics occur every 15 to 50 years. Some past pandemics have been relatively mild; others have killed millions of people worldwide. (See our Timeline of Public Health in South Carolina for more information on past disease outbreaks and pandemics.)
Regular seasonal flu outbreaks do not qualify as pandemics. But the H1N1 flu virus that first appeared in South Carolina in April 2009 was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO) because it was a new strain of flu virus and spread throughout the world. See the difference between seasonal and pandemic flu chart for more information.
Pandemics can create many other problems
In addition to the toll a pandemic can take on human health, they can stress our:
- Health care systems, because health care providers and hospitals must deal with a surge in patient demand
- Government, including public health and social service agencies due to demand and high rates of employee absenteeism because of illness
- Schools, which may have to cope with extended closings
- Businesses, which might have to cope with extremely high levels of absenteeism due to illness
- Emergency responders, including law enforcement
- Public utilities, who may lack the staff to provide essential services,
- Mortuary operations.
Planning for Pandemic Flu in South Carolina
Public health officials have been working for years to plan for the kinds of disruptions that could potentially accompany a pandemic. They’ve considered the ethical dimensions, as well as the practical.
DHEC’s Office of Public Health Preparedness coordinates the agency’s pandemic planning efforts.