Human diseases take a variety of forms, some of which have the potential to cause a civil emergency due to the number of people they might affect in a short space of time.
One such risk is an influenza (‘flu’) pandemic. Flu pandemics are natural events that happen when a unique flu virus evolves that few people (if any) are immune to. There are important differences between ‘ordinary’ seasonal flu of the kind that happens in winter and pandemic flu.
In a pandemic, the new virus will spread quickly and cause more serious illness in a large proportion of the population, due to the lack of immunity. There is a high probability of a flu pandemic occurring, but it is impossible to predict when or exactly what it would be like.
You can find a considerable amount of information and guidance online about the public health response to pandemic flu, including guidance aimed at specific organisations such as schools and higher education institutions, businesses, cleaning staff and fire and rescue services.
For pandemic flu, good hygiene remains the most effective defence until a vaccine can be developed. Please note that antibiotics will not have any effect on flu, as it is a virus and antibiotics only kill bacteria.
Emerging infectious diseases could also cause large numbers of people to fall ill. These are diseases which have recently been recognised or where cases have increased over the last 20 years in a specific place or among a specific population (e.g. the Zika virus).
The likelihood of an emerging infectious disease spreading within the UK is assessed to be lower than that of a flu pandemic.
Emerging infectious diseases are closely monitored by public health agencies and international partners such as the World Health Organisation. Information will be provided on specific diseases as and when they emerge.
If you are travelling abroad, consult the travel immunisation guidance and make sure your protections are up to date.