— Written By N.C. Cooperative Extension
The Official United States Government Source of Pandemic and Avian Flu Information

In the last century, three influenza pandemics have swept the globe. In 1918, the first pandemic sometimes referred to as the Spanish Flu, killed more than 20 million people worldwide. Pandemics in 1957 and 1968 killed millions across the world. Scientists believe that viruses from birds played a role in causing each of these outbreaks.

Today we face a new threat. A new avian (bird) influenza virus – influenza A/H5N1 – is spreading through bird populations across Asia, Africa, and Europe, infecting domesticated birds, including ducks and chickens, and migratory birds. Avian influenza is a bird disease; however, since 2003 more than 200 people worldwide have been infected by the H5N1 virus, and more than half have died. Most human infections to date have resulted from direct contact with infected birds. There is concern, however, that if the H5N1 virus develops the ability to transfer easily between humans it could spread quickly around the world, potentially causing a human influenza pandemic.

Nations around the world are working together to address the pandemic threat by monitoring the spread of disease, developing vaccines and vaccine production, stockpiling antivirals, and working with local governments to plan and prepare for a potential pandemic. To provide current information about the status of avian influenza and the steps individuals and families can take now to begin preparing for a potential human influenza pandemic, whether at home or abroad, President Bush announced the creation of a single Website to serve as the official U.S. Government source of information. This website, provides up-to-date information on developing news stories and tools and resources to help individuals and organizations plan and prepare for a influenza pandemic.

The Website is an accurate source of information for American citizens living abroad. The site also provides information to individuals traveling through infected regions around the world and offers suggestions for safeguarding personal health while traveling. Additionally, visitors to the site can sign up to receive periodic avian and pandemic influenza news updates.