Pandemic influenza

Learn more about pandemic influenza, Alberta’s Pandemic Influenza Plan, and what you can do to prepare for a pandemic.


An influenza pandemic (worldwide flu) occurs when a new strain of influenza virus emerges and spreads quickly around the world. People have little or no natural immunity, so large numbers of people may become ill.

Pandemics may occur 3 to 4 times each century. The last one was in 2009 (H1N1).

Alberta's pandemic plan

The Alberta government has been preparing the health system and the province for an influenza pandemic since 1999.

The goal of Alberta’s plan is to control the spread of influenza disease, reduce illness and death due to influenza, minimize disruptions to the daily life of Albertans, minimize economic impacts of influenza and support an efficient and effective use of resources during response and recovery.

Alberta’s Pandemic Influenza Plan 2014 (APIP)

Alberta’s Pandemic Influenza Plan 2014 (APIP) was developed by the Ministry of Health, Alberta Emergency Management Agency (AEMA) and Alberta Health Services (AHS). This provincial plan will guide response and recovery efforts during a pandemic with an emphasis on how organizations work together.

Pandemic influenza planning and preparedness activities are equally important and are incorporated into all-hazards planning as a continuing part of the emergency management cycle.

The 2014 APIP replaced Alberta’s Plan for Pandemic Influenza (2009). Changes were based on recommendations put forward by the Health Quality Council of Alberta on lessons learned from the 2009 pH1N1 influenza pandemic. The 2014 APIP also replaced the Alberta Pandemic Influenza Operations plan (2008) and the AHS Pandemic Influenza Plan (2010).

The APIP is reviewed and revised regularly to reflect current knowledge and leading practices. It aligns with the Public Health Agency of Canada’s Canadian Pandemic Influenza Preparedness: Planning Guidance for the Health Sector (CPIP) and supports coordination between the Alberta government and AHS pandemic operational plans. It also serves as a reference for local authorities, business and industry and other stakeholder pandemic operational plans.

Ethical framework for responding to pandemic influenza

Alberta’s Ethical Framework for Responding to Pandemic Influenza is a resource to help planners and strategic policymakers consider the ethical implications of decisions they face in a pandemic.

Public health ethics focuses on the health and interests of a population and are distinct from clinical ethics which focus on the health and interests of the individual. This framework is not intended for use in making clinical ethical decisions.

Alberta’s Ethical Framework for Responding to Pandemic Influenza is based on the extensive work completed by Alberta, British Columbia and the United Kingdom. It is based on a consistent and well-recognized set of principles and outlines a transparent and clear process to assess potential choices.

As Alberta’s planning for pandemic influenza evolves, Alberta’s Ethical Framework for Responding to Pandemic Influenza will be reviewed and updated as needed.

What you can do to prepare

Individuals and families

Staying informed and understanding the potential challenges you may face in your community in the event of an influenza pandemic can help you to prepare for a variety of scenarios. Albertans can prepare for a pandemic influenza just as they would for other emergencies by preparing a basic emergency kit to be self-sufficient for 72 hours.

The Alberta government and AHS will advise you about the steps you can take to avoid the disease, availability of vaccine and antiviral drugs, and any changes that may be made in health care services to deal with the pandemic.

Be alert to information on radio, television, in newspapers, or the Internet and elsewhere. Information will be posted on the Alberta government, Alberta Heath Services and Alberta Emergency Management Agency websites.


Pandemic influenza may also affect organizations. Staff may be sick or may need to stay home to care for family members who are ill. Depending on the nature of services or products offered, the demands for services and goods may place additional pressure on an organization already coping with increased absenteeism due to the pandemic.

Alternatively, an organization could suffer a negative economic impact due to the reduced number of customers. Organizations need to consider the impact of a pandemic on their staff and customers and make appropriate plans.

About pandemic influenza

Pandemic influenza is different from seasonal influenza

Pandemic influenza

Pandemic influenza is a global epidemic that can happen at any time of the year. It typically occurs 3 to 4 times each century when a completely new strain of influenza type A virus emerges.

People generally do not have any natural immunity, that is, protection against a pandemic virus.

If this new virus spreads easily from person to person, it could quickly travel around the world.

Pandemic influenza differs from seasonal influenza in that everyone is at risk of infection with the new strain and larger numbers of people catch it.

Current vaccines for seasonal influenza will not offer protection against pandemic influenza and need to be developed to target the specific virus.

In the 20th century, there were 3 pandemics: 1918 “Spanish Influenza”, 1957 “Asian Influenza”, and 1968 “Hong Kong Influenza”; and one so far in the 21st century: 2009 “Pandemic (H1N1) 2009 Influenza”.

Seasonal influenza

Seasonal influenza virus strains constantly change and continually circulate in every part of the world, typically resulting in local outbreaks of influenza A and B.

In North America, seasonal influenza usually affects people in the fall and winter.

Even though the virus may change slightly from year to year, most people will continue to have some protection against slightly changed viruses, particularly if they are immunized yearly for seasonal influenza.

Vaccine for protection against pandemic influenza

Vaccines are the first line of defence against a pandemic, but it could take at least 6 months to produce the vaccine for a new virus. This complex process cannot begin until the pandemic begins and the new virus has been identified.

Canada is one of the few countries in the world prepared to have a vaccine manufacturer develop and supply a pandemic influenza vaccine as soon as a new strain is identified. The manufacturer will be able to produce enough vaccine for all Canadians.

Until a pandemic vaccine is available, take action to prevent getting influenza:

  • clean your hands frequently with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer
  • keep your hands away from your eyes, nose and mouth; and
  • avoid close contact (within 2 meters) with people who have influenza-like symptoms.

Once the vaccine is available, Alberta Health Services will implement the immunization program according to policy set by the Alberta government and work in collaboration with municipal authorities to identify sites to provide pandemic influenza immunization to Albertans.

Antiviral drugs

Antiviral drugs are medications used for early treatment of severe cases of influenza. It is not typically recommended for treatment of mild influenza unless individuals are part of a group identified at higher risk of severe infection. If taken shortly after getting sick (within 48 hours), they can reduce influenza symptoms, shorten the length of illness, reduce the serious complications of influenza and minimize the spread of disease.

  • Antiviral drugs work by reducing the ability of the virus to reproduce but do not provide immunity against the virus. Antiviral drugs include oseltamivir (Tamilflu®) and zanamivir (Relenza®).

Each province and territory, maintains their own portion of the national antiviral stockpile, established in 2004, to ensure equitable access across Canada to a secure supply of antivirals for pandemic influenza. At the time of an outbreak, the delivery and administration of these antivirals will be considered based on a risk assessment of the specific virus, the situation and the emerging epidemiology or other data, such as antiviral resistance or optimal treatment course.

How pandemic influenza may affect Alberta

The impact of pandemic influenza depends on the influenza strain, how easily it spreads, which groups of people are the most affected, and how effectively we respond.

In the APIP, multiple planning scenarios are used to identify probable implications associated with varying pandemic influenza impact levels on the population and on the health system. Alberta uses the same four pandemic planning impact scenarios used nationally to reflect varying transmissibility and virulence characteristics.

Planning scenarios are not predictions and will be replaced with evidence when a pandemic occurs. The basic scenarios cannot incorporate all potential factors that can affect the impact of a pandemic. Some factors are population-wide and could affect all scenarios, such as seasonality, pre-existing immunity or antiviral resistance, whereas others may be setting-specific, such as the effects on a remote community.