KNW-159 Pandemic Influenza

Pandemic Influenza

Adapted from a [] article.
Revised 11/2016
Edited 10/2022 by Paul Smith, K5PRS

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt helped clarify the effect of a pandemic when he stated “Pandemics are global in nature, but their impact is local. When the next pandemic strikes, as it surely will, it is likely to touch the lives of every individual, family, and community.”

What is influenza or the flu?
Influenza or the flu is an acute viral infection of the respiratory tract caused by one of three strains of influenza virus – A, B, or C. Symptoms include fever, chills, body aches, headache, fatigue, dry cough, sore throat and congestion.

What is pandemic influenza?
Pandemic influenza is a global outbreak of influenza to which people have little or no immunity and for which there is no vaccine. The infection spreads easily, causes serious disease and can spread world wide very quickly. Symptoms can include diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting as well as normal flu symptoms.

There are three prerequisites for the start of an influenza pandemic:

  1. A new influenza virus needs to be introduced to which humans have little or no immunity.
  2. The new virus must be able to replicate in humans and cause disease.
  3. The new virus must be able to efficiently transmit itself from one human to another.

There have been about 3 pandemics each century. The three pandemics in the 20th century occurred in 1918-19, 1957-58, and 1968-69.

  • 1968-69
    • 34,000+ deaths in U.S.
    • 700,000+ deaths worldwide
  • 1957-58
    • 70,000+ deaths in U.S.
    • 1 to 2 million deaths worldwide
  • 1918-19
    • 675,000+ deaths in U.S.
    • 50 to 100 million deaths worldwide

The number of deaths depended more on the virulence of the virus than on treatments available. More Americans died of the flu in 1918-19 than died in WWI. In fact, more Americans died of the 1918 flu than died in all the wars in the 20th century.

There are some facts about vaccines that should be understood when discussing pandemic influenza.

  • Vaccines are virus specific. They are only effective against one form of one virus.
  • They protect but are not 100% effective.
  • They do not cure influenza.Revised 11/2016 2
  • Yearly flu vaccines are developed based on informed predictions of which flu strain will be most predominant that year.
  • A pandemic virus is unknown until it infects and it will take at least six months to develop a vaccine against it.

Why should I be concerned about pandemic flu?

  • There is no sure way to stop a pandemic from occurring.
  • We cannot predict when the next flu pandemic will occur.
  • We cannot prepare a vaccine until the flu begins infecting people.
  • We cannot prevent the spread of influenza without very exacting measures; it is very contagious.
  • We cannot cure influenza.
  • We cannot cure viral pneumonia, a possible secondary infection to flu.
  • Bacterial pneumonia, another possible secondary infection, has a 20-30% death rate even with antibiotics.
  • Flu symptoms may be more severe during a pandemic and the flu may have more complications.
  • Even healthy people are at increased risk for serious complications during a flu pandemic.
  • The number of deaths could be high.
  • We know little more than they did in 1918 about how to cure the flu or how to prevent it. We only know how to lessen the impact IF those measures are implemented.

How will a pandemic affect me?

  • 50% of the population could become infected.
  • Work absenteeism is expected to be about 40% which could result in disruption of normal utilities, banking, businesses, etc.
  • A pandemic could last 12 to 24 months.
  • Communities could be affected by several waves lasting 3 to 8 weeks each.
  • Vaccines and antiviral drugs will be in short supply and vaccines will not be available until at least the second wave of flu.
  • Available healthcare will be limited because of high demand.
  • You will probably be on your own or have limited assistance.

As communicators, we often find ourselves in close quarters with others or in disaster areas where diseases spread easily. This training focused on Pandemic Influenza but it could as easily have been written for Dengue Fever or Ebola. Pandemics are not to be taken lightly. The primary questions we need to ask ourselves before we leave for a deployment during a pandemic is, “Can I do that job or another equally important job from my HAM shack?” and “How will this affect my family?”

If you do accept the deployment, make sure you are ready:

  • First, you should be healthy. We know from our experience with Covid-19 that pre-existing conditions like obesity, heart disease, diabetes, etc. often lead to bad outcomes.
  • Your immune system should be in tip-top condition. Research supplements and increase levels of Vitamin D, etc. before you expect to be deployed.
  • Get immunized for regional diseases.
  • Beef up your medication kit. You might need additional Aspirin (aches and pains), Motrin (fever), Zinc/Vitamins D & C, anti-virals (talk to your doctor), anti-diahrreal, etc.
  • Take masks
  • Take hand sanitizer. Practice not touching your face! Wearing medical gloves can help with that.
  • Take alcohol. Sanitize your toothbrush, comb, hair brush, makeup brushes, tweezers, etc. often with boiling water or alcohol.

References follow, see this article in the training section.

That concludes tonight’s training. Are there any questions, comments or suggested additions to this material?

Thanks, this is (callsign) clear to net control.


  • The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History by John M. Barry
    • The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Plague in History is a 2004 nonfiction book by John M. Barry that examines the 1918 flu pandemic, one of the worst pandemics in history. Barry focuses on what was occurring in the United States at the time and attempts to place it against the background of American history and within the context of the history of medicine.Wikipedia
  • Influenza Pandemic Preparation and Response: A Citizen’s Guide‘ by the Mid-Peninsula Citizen’s Preparedness Committee Eastern Idaho Public Health District
  • An interview with virologist Nathan Wolfe when he visited Houston in May 2010 (found in the Houston Chronicle Sunday, May 30, 2010)
  • How Prepared Are We for the Next Great Flu Breakout?: Why We’re Losing the War Against Influenza by John M. Barry from the World Policy Journal Summer 2010
  • A Pandemic Influenza Powerpoint presentation is available upon request from