H1N1 “swine” flu FAQ
Updated May 5, 2009

What makes an outbreak of a disease a pandemic?

A pandemic is an epidemic or sudden outbreak that becomes very widespread and affects a whole region, a continent or the world. By contrast, an epidemic affects more than the expected number of cases of disease occurring in a community or region during a given period of time.

The World Health Organization has the responsibility of declaring when a new flu pandemic is underway. To simplify the process, the U.N. body has established six pandemic phases. On April 29, 2009, due to the continual spread of the H1N1 flu around the globe, WHO raised the threat level to “5,” indicating a strong signal that a pandemic is imminent.

Is it easier to catch a flu virus from a surface or from someone coughing?

Flu viruses are spread mainly from person to person through coughing or sneezing of people with influenza. However, sometimes people may become infected by touching something with flu viruses on it and then touching their mouth, nose or eyes.

How long does a flu virus live in the air or on surfaces?

Some viruses and bacteria can live two hours or longer on surfaces, such as doorknobs and desks. Frequent hand washing will help you reduce your the chance of getting contamination from these common surfaces.

For more information, visit CDC’s H1N1 flu page.

updated 5/4/09

Return to the APHA influenza resources for health professionals home page.