Pandemic Flu and You

Public Health Services
Communicable Disease Control and Prevention


Information to Help You Prepare

Printable Guides to Preparing for Pandemic Flu (Requires Adobe Acrobat) 


Frequently Asked Questions and Answers 


What is pandemic influenza?

Pandemic influenza or pandemic flu is a worldwide outbreak of flu in people. Pandemic flu is caused by a new flu virus to which humans have no immunity. The flu virus that causes a pandemic can spread easily from person to person and may cause large numbers of people to get sick and die.


What is seasonal influenza?

Seasonal influenza (or the common flu) occurs every year. It can cause headaches, fever, sore throat, coughing and tiredness in people. Seasonal flu is spread from person to person via respiratory droplets. An infected person can spread the disease by sneezing and coughing which releases droplets into the air. People get sick by breathing those droplets or by touching their eyes, noses or mouths without washing their hands after touching surfaces or objects previously touched by an infected person. Each year, vaccine is available to protect people from getting the common flu.

How does a pandemic get started?

A human flu pandemic begins when a non-human flu virus changes from a form that doesn't easily infect humans to one that spreads easily from person to person.


How often is there flu pandemic?

On average, a pandemic has occurred every 30 to 40 years over the last 400 years. There were three flu pandemics during the 1900's. The most deadly took place in 1918. Known as the Spanish Flu, the 1918 flu pandemic killed 20 to 40 million people worldwide and millions more fell ill. Two other flu pandemics took place in 1957 and 1968. The most recent pandemic occurred in 2009 and was otherwise known as "Swine Flu".

What happens during a flu pandemic ?
  • Public health experts estimate that in the US, 90 million people may become ill and over 200,000 people may die in a moderate pandemic flu scenario.
  • In San Luis Obispo County, an influenza pandemic could result in as many as 5,000 illnesses and 1,000 or more deaths
  • Outbreaks are expected to occur simultaneously throughout much of the US, limiting outside assistance that normally occurs with other natural disasters.
  • As much as 40% of working adults may not be able to work due to illness, family member care, death, or fear of infection.
  • Many businesses may close due to reduced staff, supply shortages or social distancing measures.
  • A number of community containment measures may be implemented for disease control - schools and daycare centers may be closed, travel restrictions may be put in place and isolation and quarantines may be implemented.
  • Hospitals and other health care facilities may be overwhelmed.
  • Vaccines and certain medications may be in short supply.

 How can we protect ourselves in the event of a flu pandemic?

Flu moves from person to person through respiratory droplets. This happens if droplets from the coughs or sneezes of a sick person travel through air and reach a nearby person's mouth or nose. Someone who touches respiratory droplets of a sick person (via handshakes or touching soiled objects and surfaces), and then touches his/her own mouth or nose without first washing their hands can also be infected.


Protect yourself and your family by doing the following:

  • Wash your hands frequently and thoroughly with soap and water. Great tips on good hand washing techniques:
  • Do not touch your eyes, nose or mouth with dirty hands.
  • Cover your coughs and sneezes with shirt sleeve or tissue-Do not use your hands.
  • Stay home when you are sick.
  • Eat a balanced diet.
  • Exercise frequently.
  • Get the yearly seasonal flu vaccine.
  • If you are over 65, get the Pneumococcal vaccine in addition to the yearly flu vaccine. 

What can we do now to prepare for a pandemic?


  • Prepare an emergency supplies kit for your family. The kit should include enough food and water for everyone (including pets) for at least 72 hours (3 days).
  • Get the annual seasonal flu vaccine. Young children, older adults and people with pre-existing health conditions can suffer severe illness and even death from flu and its related complications. Flu shots are recommended for everyone over six months of age and are generally available by October of each year. A new form of flu vaccine, a nasal spray, is now available for healthy people between 5 and 49 years of age. Talk to your doctor about getting the flu vaccine. For more information about the flu vaccine and when and where to get vaccinated visit San Luis Obispo county's Immunization Services or CDC's Key Facts about Seasonal Flu Vaccine.

What about antiviral medications?  

    • When taken appropriately, antiviral drugs (such as Tamiflu) can help reduce the symptoms and shorten the duration of flu. There are different types of antiviral drugs and they differ in terms of who can take them, how they are given, dosage based on age and medical condition, and side effects.
    • There is no guarantee that antiviral medications will be effective in treating pandemic flu. Unconsistent use of antiviral medications can cause flu viruses to develop resistance against these drugs. For instance, there have existed cases where people treated for severe flu viruses early in their disease have later died of their symptoms, despite having been given Tamiflu early in their disease. For more information about antiviral medications, visit CDC's Website:"Antiviral Drugs".

    Will vaccines be available during a pandemic?

    An effective pandemic flu vaccine is not expected to become available until months into a pandemic. This is because no one can predict what strain of virus will cause the next flu pandemic making it nearly impossible to make a well-matched and effective vaccine in advance.

    What are federal, state and local governments doing to prepare?

    The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has developed several guides and resources for pandemic preparedness and response. For more information, please go to the Federal Government's Flu planning-preparedness website. The President's pandemic plan primarily focuses on allocating funds for national stockpiles of vaccines and antiviral drugs and for the development of new vaccines.

    The State of California, Division of Communicable Disease Control has developed a website called Influenza (FLU)  with links to related seasonal and pandemuc influenza.

    Information for Individuals and Families

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    Family Emergency Contact Form
    Family Emergency Health Information   
    Medical Need Evaluation


    Information for Businesses
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    Business General-Brochure
    Business Continuity-Brochure
    Employees with Disabilities-Brochure
    Traveling To Affected Areas
    Sample Letter To Employees
    Emergency Manager Contact Form
    Employee Emergency Contact
    Sample Emergency Call Down Procedure

    Sample Letter To Employees
    Emergency Manager Contact Form

    Employee Emergency Contact


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    Information for Schools and Daycare Facilities
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    General Information for School/Daycare-Brochure
    Prevent Flu In School/Daycare 
    Sending Sick Students Home
    Students With Special Needs
    Sample Letter To Parents
    Information About Homeschool
    Feeding Large Groups of People
    Normal Feelings After a Traumatic Experience

    Sample Letter To Parents

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    Information for Faith-Based and Community Organizations


    Related Links



    Educational resources for children

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    Health care

    Healthy habits information for home, work and school

    These and other posters may be available through the SLO County Public Health Department
    Call 805-781-5500 for more information



    Individuals and Families

    Pandemic Flu Websites


    Practice Good Hygiene

    Travel Advisories


    San Luis Obispo County
    Public Health Services
    2191 Johnson Avenue
    San Luis Obispo, CA 93401

    Phone: (805) 781-5500 or
    Phone: (805) 788-2903 (Public Health Information Line)
    Health Agency Contact Form  

    Penny Borenstein, MD, MPH

    Health Officer/Public Health Director


    M-F, 8:00 AM-5:00 PM

    (805) 781-5500

    Online Contact Form

    After hours public health emergency or urgent communicable disease (805) 781-4553

    24-Hour Information Line -Recorded Messages- (805) 788-2903

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