Frequently Asked Questions: Pandemic Flu and the Updated Community Mitigation Guidelines
A flu pandemic can occur when a new influenza A virus emerges. Because the virus is new, the human population likely does not have immunity against it; thus, the virus can spread quickly and globally from person to person.
Given that it may take up to 6 months to produce a pandemic flu vaccine and that antiviral medications may be reserved for treatment, nonpharmaceutical interventions (NPIs) will likely be the only prevention tools available during the early stages of a pandemic and, thus, critically important to help slow the spread of infection.
Nonpharmaceutical interventions, or NPIs, are actions that individuals and communities can take to slow the spread of respiratory illnesses, like the flu. These actions do not include medication, vaccines, or other pharmaceutical interventions.
There are basically 3 categories of NPIs: personal, community, and environmental. Examples of these NPIs include:
- Staying home when sick
- Covering coughs and sneezes with a tissue
- Washing hands often or using hand sanitizer
- Creating physical distance between people in settings where they commonly come in contact with one another (like workplaces)
- Temporarily closing schools where students, teachers, and staff members come in close contact with one another
- Modifying, postponing, or canceling large public events
- Routinely cleaning frequently touched surfaces and objects
A flu pandemic can occur at any time. Knowing how to react, what steps to take, and how to use NPIs to protect individuals and communities before a pandemic flu vaccine is available are crucial to help slow the spread of infection.
CDC has developed an updated set of guidelines, called the Community Mitigation Guidelines to Prevent Pandemic Influenza – United States, 2017, as well as supplemental guides for specific groups and online materials that outline strategies for planning and preparing for a flu pandemic and for using NPIs.
Additionally, CDC has developed an NPI 101 training for public health professionals to help them learn more about NPIs and share information with their communities on how to use NPIs. Visit CDC’s NPI site to view the training.
CDC’s updated 2017 community mitigation guidelines are designed to help state, tribal, local, and territorial (STLT) public health departments with their pre-pandemic flu planning. CDC also has developed a set of supplemental NPI planning guides for important target audiences.
The updated guidelines contain the same set of personal, community, and environmental NPIs, but also incorporate lessons learned from the 2009 H1N1 pandemic response, introduce a new pandemic severity assessment framework to aid STLT public health departments with their future pre-pandemic flu planning, and provide the latest scientific findings on the use of NPIs.
While personal NPIs remain the same for everyone, there are differences in how specific groups will need to adjust their daily operations in the event of a pandemic flu outbreak. CDC has developed targeted guidance for the following audiences to make the planning process as easy as possible:
- Individuals and families
- Educational settings (childcare facilities, K-12 schools, and colleges and universities)
- Community and faith-based organizations (serving vulnerable populations)
- Event planners
- Public health communicators
Protecting yourself and your peers from pandemic flu will require all facets of the community to work together. You can help facilitate this cooperation by informing schools, businesses, community organizations, and other institutions of the availability of the updated community mitigation guidelines and supplemental NPI guides. Use your social media accounts to link to these resources, and work with city officials to make pre-pandemic flu planning part of your next council meeting.
CDC has developed many resources to aid in your outreach to your communities, including fact sheets, checklists, and posters. These can be found on CDC’s NPI site.