FAQ - Communicable Diseases

Pandemic Influenza

What is influenza (the flu)?

A. Influenza is a respiratory illness that causes fever, headache, body ache, cough and extreme tiredness. It can make even otherwise healthy people very ill. Everyone six months of age and older is encouraged to get a flu shot every year.

What is seasonal influenza?

A. Also known as the common flu, seasonal influenza occurs nearly every year. Each year, 10-20% of the U.S. population becomes ill with the flu and about 36,000 people die from the flu or its complications. Vaccines are available to prevent people from getting the common flu.

What is avian influenza?

A. Avian influenza or bird flu is caused by a group of highly contagious flu viruses that are found naturally among birds. There are ongoing outbreaks of a type of bird flu virus, H5N1, among wild birds and domestic poultry in many countries around the world. On rare occasion, the H5N1 virus has infected people. Over 200 human cases have occurred worldwide since 2003. This virus does not pass easily from person-to-person. Close contact with sick birds is the main route of infection in humans.

What is pandemic influenza?

A. Pandemic influenza describes a worldwide outbreak of flu in people. It is caused by a new flu virus to which humans have no immunity. A new flu virus could result from changes to a bird (or other non-human) virus. These changes have not yet occurred with the H5N1 bird flu virus. There is no human flu pandemic right now.

What are the signs and symptoms of pandemic influenza?

A. Symptoms are similar to seasonal flu but may be more severe: fever, headache, dry cough, extreme tiredness, sore throat, runny nose, muscle aches, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea

How is pandemic influenza different from seasonal influenza?

A. Seasonal flu occurs every year, and vaccines are available to protect people from seasonal flu. Pandemic flu occurs rarely, but may cause more severe illness and result in more deaths than seasonal flu. No vaccines exist for pandemic flu.

How is pandemic influenza different from avian influenza?

A. Bird flu is caused by viruses that primarily affect birds. Bird flu is highly contagious among birds but rarely cause sickness in people. Pandemic flu is a worldwide outbreak of highly contagious flu among people.

How is pandemic influenza spread?

A. Similar to seasonal flu, pandemic flu is spread from person to person through coughs and sneezes. This can happen when droplets from the cough or sneeze of a sick person travel through air and reach the mouth or nose of a person nearby. Pandemic flu can also be spread when a person touches respiratory droplets left behind on an object or surface by a sick person, and then touches his/her own (or someone else’s) mouth or nose before hand washing.

How can I protect myself and my family from getting sick during a pandemic?

A. Wash your hands frequently and thoroughly with soap and water. Cover your coughs and sneezes. Stay home when you’re sick. Do not share used/dirty utensils.

How likely is it that we will see a pandemic flu in our lifetime?

A. No one can predict when a pandemic will occur or how severe it will be. A pandemic has occurred on average every 30 to 40 years (range 10 to 50) over the last 400 years. The deadliest pandemic in recent history occurred in 1918. A recent flu pandemic, milder than the 1918 pandemic, occurred in 1968. The 2009 H1N1 flu, although it did not make people as ill, was truly a pandemic.

How will we know when a new influenza virus is identified?

A. Public health authorities around the world are working together to test and share information about influenza viruses. In the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), working with state public health agencies, is actively monitoring influenza activity in this country.

What are federal, state and local public health agencies doing to prepare for pandemic influenza?

A. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, public health agencies at the state (such as Oregon Health Authority) and local levels (such as Washington County Department of Health and Human Services) have developed or are working on emergency plans to respond to a pandemic. State and local health departments are also working with healthcare facilities, businesses, faith-based organizations and other community groups to help them prepare for pandemic flu.


What is Tuberculosis?

A. Tuberculosis, or TB, is a preventable infectious disease caused by a bacterium called Mycobacterium tuberculosis. TB can attack any part of the body, but primarily attacks the lungs. TB disease was once a leading cause of death in the United States. Worldwide, TB still causes more deaths than any other infectious disease.

During the 1940s, scientists discovered the first of many drugs used to treat TB. As a result, TB slowly began to disappear in the U.S. Unfortunately, TB infection has made a comeback in recent decades. After 1984, the number of TB cases reported in the U.S. began to increase. More than 25,000 cases were reported in 1993.

How is TB spread?

A. TB is spread through the air from one person to another. The bacteria are spread when a person with active TB disease of the lungs or throat coughs or sneezes. People nearby can breathe in the TB germs that are in the air and may become infected.

You CANNOT get TB from sharing a drinking glass with a person who has TB or touching a doorknob after someone with TB has used it. Also, once a person with TB is taking medication for treatment, he or she quickly becomes non-contagious. Additionally, once treatment has begun, he or she can quickly resume their normal life without fear of spreading TB to others.

What is latent TB infection (LTBI)?

A. In most people who breathe in TB bacteria and become infected, the person's body is able to fight the infection and keep them from growing. The TB bacteria become dormant, and this is called latent TB infection. People with latent TB infection:
  * have no symptoms
  * don't feel sick
  * can't spread TB to others
  * usually have a positive skin screening test reaction

Many people who have latent TB infection never develop active TB disease. In these people, the TB bacteria remain in the body for a lifetime without causing disease. But, in others, especially those who have weak immune systems, the bacteria can become active and cause TB disease.

What is active TB disease?

A. The presence of TB bacteria in the body can lead to active TB disease if an infected person's immune system can't stop the bacteria from multiplying. Some people develop active TB disease soon after becoming infected, before their immune system can fight the TB bacteria. Other people that carry the bacteria may become sick later in life.

Symptoms of active TB disease depend on where in the body the TB bacteria are growing and may include:
* bad cough lasting more than 3 weeks
* pain in the chest
* coughing up blood or sputum
* weakness/fatigue
* weight loss
* no appetite
* chills, fever, night sweats
* usually have a positive skin teset
* may have abnormal chest x-ray and/or positive sputum smear or culture 

Who is at highest risk for getting TB?

A. Those at highest risk for TB infection (recommended for testing) include the following populations:
  * Close personal contacts of active TB patients
  * Foreign-born individuals who have been in the U. S. less than 5 years
  * Residents and employees of prisons, hospitals, nursing homes, long-term care facilities, homeless shelters
  * HIV-positive persons
  * Patients with organ transplants and others who are immunosuppressed
  * Persons whose chest X-rays are consistent with TB disease
  * Injection drug users
  * Persons with clinical conditions that place them at a higher risk, including those with diabetes and chronic renal failure

How are people tested for TB?

A. A healthcare provider can offer you a TB skin test if you are considered to be at high risk for getting TB. If you have a positive reaction to the skin test, your doctor or nurse may do other tests to see if you have TB disease. These tests usually include a chest x-ray and a test of the phlegm you cough up.

Because the TB bacteria may be found elsewhere besides the lungs, a doctor or nurse may check your blood or urine, or do other tests. If you are found to have TB disease, you will need to take medicine to cure it.

What services does Washington County provide?

A. Washington County Department of Health and Human Services provides the following TB prevention and infection control services:
  * Identification and treatment of cases of active TB disease.
  * Contact investigations
  * Directly Observed Therapy (DOT) for active TB patients
  * Collection and evaluation of surveillance data to make certain TB is treated appropriately
  * Consultation, education and outreach activities for the community and healthcare professionals
  * Preventive therapy for latent TB infection for those at HIGHEST RISK, based on local epidemiology