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Public Health - Seattle & King County

When a pandemic flu is present

What is the best way to protect myself from pandemic influenza?

Begin now to practice simple but important habits that reduce the spread of germs:

  • Wash your hands frequently.
    • Wash thoroughly with warm water and soap for 20 seconds.
    • Make sure to wash your hands before eating, or touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
    • If caring for ill persons, wash hands after providing assistance.
    • Always wash your hands after sneezing, blowing your nose, or coughing, or after touching used tissues or handkerchiefs.
    • If hand washing is not possible, use an alcohol-based hand cleaner.
    • Avoid touching your mouth, nose and eyes.
    • When coughing and sneezing, cover your mouth and nose with tissue, or cough and sneeze into your upper sleeve. Put used tissues in the trash.
    • Don't share items such as cigarettes, towels, lipstick, toys or anything else that might be contaminated with germs.
    • Don't share food, utensils or beverage containers with others.

  • Stay home when you are sick.
    • See your health care provider as soon as you can if you have a cough and a fever, and follow their instructions, including taking medicine as prescribed and getting rest.
    • If asked, use a mask when visiting your health care provider.
    • Visit Public Health's Stop Germs, Stay Healthy! website for more information and educational materials on stopping germs and staying healthy.

  • Minimize your exposure to ill people as much as possible. During a flu pandemic, this may mean avoiding large social gatherings and events, such as concerts, movie theaters, and sports venues.

Should I buy Tamiflu (oseltamivir) for my home?

Tamiflu is a prescription antiviral drug that works against influenza viruses. It is not known if it will be useful against a pandemic influenza virus. Tamiflu is not recommended for persons to keep at home in case of a pandemic.

Will there be enough Tamiflu for everyone if there is a global pandemic influenza outbreak, and if not, who will get it?

The federal government is stockpiling medical supplies and antiviral drugs (such as Tamiflu) and King County is also purchasing a supply for this region. However, there is simply not enough Tamiflu available for any country in the world to protect all their citizens.

Public health officials have recommended using available supplies of Tamiflu to first treat persons with severe infections that require hospitalization, and persons that will perform vital functions that the public will need in a pandemic. These groups include healthcare workers and emergency responders.

During a pandemic, Tamiflu is not recommended to prevent influenza infections because using the drug for this purpose requires daily doses for weeks. The limited supply of Tamiflu means that it must be saved to treat those who are severely ill.

Tamiflu is currently manufactured by one company in Switzerland. Government agencies and the manufacturer of Tamiflu are attempting to find ways to is negotiating with generic drug companies to increase production of the medicine.

Should I wear a mask at work to protect myself from pandemic influenza?

Masks are recommended for use in health care settings by ill persons and healthcare workers to prevent spread of infection. At this time, masks are not recommended for use by well persons in the community. There is no guarantee that masks would prevent the spread of the infection in the population.

If persons decide to wear masks during a pandemic influenza outbreak, it is likely they will need to wear them any time they are in a public place and when they are around other household members.

More information on the use of masks from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Do I need to disinfect surfaces that have been in contact with a person with influenza?

Yes, wipe down any surfaces that may have been contaminated by saliva or other respiratory secretions.

Influenza viruses are known to survive on non-porous surfaces such as steel and plastic, for up to 24 to 48 hours after inoculation and from cloth, paper, and tissues for up to 8 to 12 hours. Viable virus can be transferred from non-porous surfaces to hands for 24 hours and from tissues to hands for 15 minutes.

Use a household disinfectant labeled for activity against bacteria and viruses, an EPA-registered hospital disinfectant, or mix and use 1/4 cup chlorine bleach with 1 gallon of cool water.

Why does it take so long to develop a pandemic influenza vaccine?

Vaccine production is a complicated and lengthy process. Because viruses change over time, a specific pandemic influenza vaccine cannot be produced until a pandemic influenza virus emerges in humans. Once a pandemic influenza virus has been identified, it will likely take 4-6 months to develop, test, and begin producing a vaccine.

In preparation, the U.S. government is making efforts to increase manufacturers' ability to produce vaccine. Research is also underway to develop new ways to produce vaccines more quickly.