BIOSECURITY AND BIOTERRORISM: BIODEFENSE STRATEGY, PRACTICE, AND SCIENCE
Volume 4, Number 4, 2006
© Mary Ann Liebert, Inc.
Disease Mitigation Measures in the Control
of Pandemic Influenza
THOMAS V. INGLESBY, JENNIFER B. NUZZO, TARA O’TOOLE, and D. A. HENDERSON
The threat of an influenza pandemic has alarmed countries around the globe and given rise to an in-
tense interest in disease mitigation measures. This article reviews what is known about the effective-
ness and practical feasibility of a range of actions that might be taken in attempts to lessen the num-
ber of cases and deaths resulting from an influenza pandemic. The article also discusses potential
adverse second- and third-order effects of mitigation actions that decision makers must take into ac-
count. Finally, the article summarizes the authors’ judgments of the likely effectiveness and likely
adverse consequences of the range of disease mitigation measures and suggests priorities and practi-
cal actions to be taken.
H5N1 avian strains, has alarmed countries around the
world. There is universal agreement that the key to in-
fluenza prevention is vaccination, and both funds and re-
search are now being expended in pursuit of an effective
vaccine. However, producing a satisfactory vaccine will
take at least 6 months after a new strain emerges that is
demonstrably capable of causing a pandemic. Antiviral
drugs offer hope of preventing some cases and possibly
diminishing the severity of the disease if they are given
within 24–48 hours after onset of symptoms. But sup-
plies of these drugs are limited, the rapid development of
virus resistance to the drugs is feared, and they are costly.
Accordingly, there has been interest in a range of dis-
ease mitigation measures. Possible measures that have
been proposed include: isolation of sick people in hospi-
tal or at home, use of antiviral medications, hand-wash-
ing and respiratory etiquette, large-scale or home quaran-
tine of people believed to have been exposed, travel
restrictions, prohibition of social gatherings, school clo-
sures, maintaining personal distance, and the use of
masks. Thus, we must ask whether any or all of the pro-
posed measures are epidemiologically sound, logistically
HE THREAT OF AN INFLUENZA PANDEMIC, especially
one caused by some variant of the highly pathogenic
feasible, and politically viable. It is also critically impor-
tant to consider possible secondary social and economic
impacts of various mitigation measures.
Over the years, various combinations of these mea-
sures have been used under epidemic and pandemic cir-
cumstances in attempts to control the spread of influenza.
However, there are few studies that shed light on the rel-
ative effectiveness of these measures. A historical review
of communities in the U.S. during the 1918 influenza
pandemic identified only two that escaped serious mor-
tality and morbidity. Both communities had completely
cut themselves off for months from the outside world.
One was a remote town in the Colorado mountains, and
the other was a naval training station on an island in San
Francisco Bay.1Obviously, this is not a strategy of gen-
eral utility. Other studies have suggested that, except in
the most extreme applications, disease mitigation mea-
sures have not had a significant impact on altering the
course of an influenza pandemic.2,3
A number of mitigation measures that are now being
considered could have a serious impact on the ability of the
health system to deliver adequate care and could have po-
tentially adverse consequences for the provision of essen-
tial services. Many could result in significant disruption of
Thomas V. Inglesby, MD, is COO and Deputy Director; Jennifer B. Nuzzo, SM, is Senior Analyst; Tara O’Toole, MD, MPH, is
CEO and Director; and D. A. Henderson, MD, MPH, is Distinguished Scholar; all are at the Center for Biosecurity of the Univer-
sity of Pittsburgh Medical Center, Baltimore, Maryland.
DISEASE MITIGATION MEASURES
the social functioning of communities and result in possibly
serious economic problems. Such negative consequences
might be worth chancing if there were compelling evidence
or reason to believe they would seriously diminish the con-
sequences or spread of a pandemic. However, few analyses
have been produced that weigh the hoped-for efficacy of
such measures against the potential impacts of large-scale
or long-term implementation of these measures.
Historically, it has been all but impossible to prevent
influenza from being imported into a country or political
jurisdiction, and there has been little evidence that any
particular disease mitigation measure has significantly
slowed the spread of flu. The clinical and epidemiologic
characteristics of influenza explain why:
• The influenza virus is known to spread rapidly from
one person to the next, with a second generation of pa-
tients occurring within 2–4 days following exposure.4
• People infected with influenza may shed virus for 1–2
days before becoming symptomatic.5
• Some flu-infected individuals may be asymptomatic
and so would not be recognized as being infected. In
seasonal flu outbreaks, this group may represent a sig-
nificant proportion of infected people.6,7 Asymptomatic
individuals infected with flu have been shown to shed
virus, although the extent to which these individuals
transmit infection to others is not known.8
• Many patients who are symptomatic are not readily di-
agnosed because their symptoms differ little from indi-
viduals with other respiratory illnesses or allergies.
PANDEMIC PLANNING PREMISES
A new pandemic strain can be expected to spread
rapidly and widely, but it is not likely to be constantly
present in any given area. In both 1918 and 1957, there
were some outbreaks in the U.S. of disease in the late
spring, but the outbreaks were geographically limited.
This has been referred to as the “first wave” of the pan-
demic. There were very few cases in the summer, but in
the autumn a major pandemic wave of disease swept
across the country during a 3–4-month period—the so-
called “second wave.” This was followed by a compara-
tively quiescent period, and then a “third wave” occurred
the following spring. Subsequently, the new strain in
each of these pandemics displaced the then-currently cir-
culating strains and continued to recur every 2–3 years as
seasonal flu, although it caused fewer serious illnesses.9
For planning purposes, the U.S. Department of Health
and Human Services (HHS) and the White House Home-
land Security Council (HSC) make the assumption that the
expected attack rate in the next influenza pandemic would
be comparable to the other 20th century pandemics—that
is, about 25–30% of the population would become ill.10,11
It is also assumed that the virus’s ability to spread rapidly
and widely would be comparable to past pandemics and
that the duration of the outbreak in any given community
would be about 8 weeks.10,11While government planners
estimate that as much as 30% of the U.S. population would
fall sick from the next pandemic, any given community
would see those illnesses spaced over a period of at least 8
weeks, not all occurring at one time. Since the average du-
ration of illness would be expected to be about 10 days,
only a subset of flu victims in any community would be ill
at once. Given this, even in the peak weeks of a pandemic
it would seem reasonable to expect that no more than 10%
of a community’s population would be ill at any time.
The HHS and HSC documents assume that, in the
worst case, the case-fatality ratio would be equal to that
of 1918 (about 2.5%).10,11Such data as are available from
the past 300 years show the 1918 influenza pandemic
was, by far, the most lethal.
To date, the current H5N1 influenza case-fatality ratios
have been 50% or more. H5N1 infection has been clini-
cally more severe, and many patients have exhibited
symptoms that differ from those caused by other in-
fluenza strains.12,13So far, the virus has exhibited little
ability to spread from human to human. It has been
widely assumed that if the current avian strain of virus
did transform into one that is more readily transmissible,
the virus would assume characteristics and case-fatality
rates more closely resembling previous pandemic strains.
A range of possible measures for containing the spread
of influenza during a pandemic are set forth in HHS’s
Pandemic Influenza Plan10and HSC’s National Strategy
for Pandemic Influenza: Implementation Plan.11Both
documents outline possible actions that might be taken
during a pandemic to minimize transmission and control
the spread of infection. Disease mitigation measures are
presented as a series of options, but the criteria for pursu-
ing any particular measure are not articulated nor are op-
erational details provided regarding how these measures
should be implemented.
It has been recognized that most actions taken to counter
pandemic influenza will have to be undertaken by local
governments, given that the epidemic response capacity of
the federal government is limited.14This is reflected in
HHS Secretary Michael Leavitt’s statement at a February
2006 State and Local Pandemic Preparedness Meeting:
“Any community that fails to prepare [for an influenza pan-
demic] with the idea that somehow, in the end, the federal
government will be able to rescue them will be tragically
wrong.”15But a recent review of the current pandemic in-
fluenza plans of 49 states reveals that few explicitly discuss
implementing community mitigation strategies.16The au-
thors of the review attribute this lack of planning for in-
fluenza in part to “weak central (federal) direction and the
lack of key epidemiological data.”16One of the better-de-
veloped plans is that of the New York City Department of
Health and Mental Hygiene,17whose staff considered the
use of disease mitigation measures but decided to incorpo-
rate few of the measures now described in federal plans.
A fundamental premise of disease mitigation that has
been advanced by some in the policymaking community
is that a less intense but more prolonged pandemic may
be easier for society to bear,18but this is speculative.
CLARIFICATION OF TERMS
There is widespread confusion about the terms used to
describe measures for controlling disease spread. The prin-
cipal confusion is between use of the words quarantine and
isolation. Isolation properly refers only to the confinement
of symptomatic patients in the hospital (or at home) so that
they will not infect others. Quarantine has traditionally
been defined as the separation from circulation in the com-
munity of asymptomatic people who may have been ex-
posed to infection and might—or might not—become ill.
Home quarantine refers to voluntary confinement of
known contacts of influenza cases in their own homes.
Large-scale quarantine typically refers to confinement of
large groups of possibly infected people—for example, all
passengers on an airplane, or the residents of an apartment
building or an entire city—for periods of days to weeks.
In recent years the term social distancing has come
into use. Social distancing has been used to refer to a
range of measures that might serve to reduce contact be-
tween people. These may include closing schools or pro-
hibiting large gatherings, such as church services and
sporting events. Others have used the term to refer to ac-
tions taken to increase the distance of individuals from
each other at the work site or in other locations—for ex-
ample, substituting phone calls for face-to-face meetings
or avoiding hand-shaking. The term has come to describe
fundamentally different approaches to disease mitiga-
tion. This document will refer only to specific interven-
tions rather than to the catch-all term social distancing.
EVALUATION OF DISEASE
Epidemiologic Assessment: Do available data or
experience suggest the measure will work?
It is difficult to evaluate the effectiveness of specific
measures to control disease spread in epidemiologic
terms because of the complex interrelationships between
individuals and groups and the individual biological dif-
ferences in response to influenza. Some historical studies
have tried to evaluate the efficacy of specific influenza
containment efforts,2and, although they are informative,
the relative paucity of such studies and the differences
between past historical moments and the present limit the
conclusions that can be drawn.
Recently, a number of mathematical models have ex-
amined various combinations of disease mitigation mea-
sures for pandemic influenza.19–21Such models consist of
computer simulations of disease outbreaks that are devel-
oped from very limited data regarding the epidemiologi-
cal and biological characteristics of influenza and a series
of assumptions about the likely compliance of the popu-
lation, the feasibility of applying various interventions,
and so on. The predictions provided by such models can
vary widely depending on the assumptions that are made
in their construction.
What the computer models cannot incorporate is the
effects that various mitigation strategies might have on
the behavior of the population and the consequent course
of the epidemic. There is simply too little experience to
predict how a 21st century population would respond, for
example, to the closure of all schools for periods of many
weeks to months, or to the cancellation of all gatherings
of more than 1,000 persons. Would these closures serve
to decrease contacts between people and so retard the
spread of the epidemic? Or would those affected spend
more time in malls, in fast-food restaurants, and in other
social settings that might result in more contacts and
more rapid spread of influenza?
No model, no matter how accurate its epidemiologic as-
sumptions, can illuminate or predict the secondary and ter-
tiary effects of particular disease mitigation measures. Nor,
for example, can it assess the potential effects of high ab-
sentee rates resulting from home or regional quarantine on
the functioning integrity of essential services, such as hos-
pital care or provision of food and electrical service to the
community. If particular measures are applied for many
weeks or months, the long-term or cumulative second- and
third-order effects could be devastating socially and eco-
nomically. In brief, models can play a contributory role in
thinking through possible mitigation measures, but they
cannot be more than an ancillary aid in deciding policy.
Logistical Assessment: Is the disease mitigation
Many communitywide disease mitigation measures
would be intrinsically difficult to implement. Considera-
tion must be given to the resources required for imple-
mentation, to the mechanisms needed to persuade the
public to comply (or to compel the public, if the mea-
INGLESBY ET AL.
DISEASE MITIGATION MEASURES
sures are mandatory), and to the length of time that they
would need to be applied. Potential disease mitigation
measures presumably would have to be maintained for
the duration of the epidemic in a community—a pre-
dicted period of 8 or more weeks—or, perhaps, in the
country as a whole—as long as 8 months.18
Recent experiences in endeavoring to quarantine large
numbers of people during the 2003 SARS outbreaks illus-
trate why feasibility must be a central consideration. Cana-
dian health officials implemented a voluntary home quar-
antine in Toronto, where an estimated 30,000 people who
came in contact with SARS cases (fewer than 500 actual
cases in all) were asked to stay home until it became clear
that they were not infected.22Although the efficacy of the
home quarantine in Toronto is not clear, the public health
resources needed to implement this policy were prodigious,
as it was necessary not only to persuade each family of the
rationale of the measures and inform them how to comply
but also to arrange to provide food and other support ser-
vices. As a result of this and other experiences, medical au-
thorities have expressed doubts about the efficacy and fea-
sibility of large-scale and home quarantines.14,23,24
Social, Economic, and Political Assessment:
What are the possible unintended adverse
Disease mitigation measures, however well inten-
tioned, have potential social, economic, and political
consequences that need to be fully considered by politi-
cal leaders as well as health officials. Closing schools is
an example. Some have suggested closure might be rec-
ommended for as long as a pandemic persists in a single
community (perhaps 8 weeks) or for as long as a pan-
demic persists in the country (as long as 8 months).18The
rationale for the strategy is to diminish contacts between
students and so retard epidemic spread. However, if this
strategy were to be successful, other sites where school-
children gather would also have to be closed: daycare
centers, cinemas, churches, fast-food stores, malls, and
athletic arenas. Many parents would need to stay home
from work to care for children, which could result in high
rates of absenteeism that could stress critical services, in-
cluding health care. School closures also raise the ques-
tion of whether certain segments of society would be
forced to bear an unfair share of the disease control bur-
den. A significant proportion of children in lower-income
families rely on school feeding programs for basic nutri-
Political leaders need to understand the likely benefits
and the potential consequences of disease mitigation
measures, including the possible loss of critical civic ser-
vices and the possible loss of confidence in government
to manage the crisis.
POTENTIAL DISEASE CONTROL
Large-Scale Community Vaccination
Vaccines are the best mechanism for preventing in-
fluenza infection and spread in the community and for
protecting healthcare workers caring for those who do
become ill. Once an influenza strain capable of sustained
human-to-human transmission emerges, a vaccine spe-
cific to the pandemic strain will need to be made. It is ex-
pected that it will be at least 6 months after the emer-
gence of the pandemic strain before the initial supplies of
vaccine can be produced. Current vaccine manufacturing
techniques and limitations on vaccine production con-
strain the total amount of vaccine that can be manufac-
tured. Special efforts are being made to increase this ca-
pacity,25but under current conditions, according to the
National Strategy for Pandemic Influenza, it will be as
much as 5 years (i.e., 2011) before domestic vaccine pro-
duction capacity is in place to create enough vaccine for
the entire U.S. population within 6 months of the start of
Isolation of Sick People in Hospitals
Beyond widespread vaccination, isolating sympto-
matic influenza patients, either at home or in the hospital,
is probably the most important measure that could be
taken to reduce the transmission and slow the spread of
illness within a community. The sickest (and presumably
most contagious) patients are most likely to seek hospital
care. The critical importance of hospitals in providing
health care during a pandemic cannot be overstated and
has been addressed by a number of sources.26–30
In an influenza epidemic, hospitals will face several
key challenges. First, hospitals must protect their own
staffs from infection and avoid becoming “amplifiers” of
disease. Historically, hospitals have often accelerated the
spread of contagious disease because of the presence of
highly contagious patients and their close proximity to
the medical staff who care for them and to other patients
who are ill and vulnerable to infection.31Modern hospi-
tals are not designed to accommodate large numbers of
highly contagious patients, and special measures, includ-
ing cohorting of patients, adjustments to HVAC systems,
and use of personal protective gear, will need to be made
to protect healthcare workers and patients from infection.
Second, hospitals must establish strategies for coping
with what will presumably be a large and relatively sus-
tained surge in demand for medical care. At present, hos-
pitals have little capacity to meet such demands.27,30,32
Hospital care will be needed not only for those who are
ill with influenza itself but also for patients with chronic
conditions made critical by acute influenza infection. Ac-
commodating the increased demand for hospital care will
require coordination and collaboration between hospitals
in a given region and among hospital leaders, public
health authorities, and elected officials. Some jurisdic-
tions have taken steps to establish the organizational
framework, communication networks, and operational
principles needed to do this,29but most have not. It is
noteworthy that, in spite of the predominant role that hos-
pitals must play in pandemic response, the federal alloca-
tions for pandemic flu preparedness have included little
financial support either for regional medical care plan-
ning or for the hospitals themselves.33
In 1918–19, even the best-equipped hospitals had lit-
tle to offer flu victims. Today, however, although mod-
ern medicine offers limited remedies for influenza, the
availability of oxygen, ventilators, antibiotics, and par-
enteral fluids could make a critical difference in surviv-
ing flu, especially among those with underlying chronic
It has been suggested that alternative care sites, such as
gymnasiums and armories, could lessen the demand on
hospitals.10,34In 1918, such alternative care facilities
were set up in many cities. However, patients housed in
alternative sites received little more than food and water.
Such sites realistically would represent alternatives to
home care, not hospital care, given the practical prob-
lems of safely managing services such as respiratory sup-
port, intravenous medication, oxygen, and the like out-
side of a hospital setting. A major challenge for all
authorities charged with managing a pandemic will be
how to allot scarce, possibly life-saving medical re-
sources and how to maintain hospitals’ capacity to care
for critically ill flu victims while continuing to provide
other essential medical services.
Home Isolation of Sick People
In light of the expected shortages of medical beds and
personnel, home isolation of non–critically ill influenza
patients would be necessary in a major pandemic. A pol-
icy that persuades sick individuals to voluntarily stay at
home unless they are critically ill would allow hospitals
to focus efforts on those most seriously threatened.
There are a number of logistical considerations that
could prevent people from being able to remain isolated
in their homes. Special measures would be needed to pro-
vide basic medical and food supplies, perhaps through
the use of neighborhood volunteers and supplemented by
communication by phone or internet. It may not be easy
to persuade those without paid sick leave (some 59 mil-
lion persons35) to absent themselves from work, unless
employers address this problem directly. A recent review
of state pandemic influenza plans found that only one-
third of the 49 states examined have explicit plans to en-
courage voluntary home isolation.16
Use of Antiviral Medications
Antiviral drugs for influenza are available in limited
quantities. Data on how antivirals might perform in the
prevention or treatment of the H5N1 strain are scant.
Prominent authorities think the likelihood of “quench-
ing” an emergent pandemic strain through the rapid, re-
gionwide use of antivirals is low because of technical and
logistical difficulties, even if the pandemic strain proves
to be sensitive to such drugs.36Several countries have
recommended that the top priority for antivirals is to treat
the ill.37,38If antivirals were to be used for prevention, it
would imply the need for much longer administration of
the drug to cover the period of a community epidemic.
Specifically, using oseltamivir as the most available ex-
ample, the quantity of antivirals used to prevent infection
in a single healthcare worker during an 8–10-week epi-
demic period would serve to treat an estimated 5 to 7 pa-
tients (assumes prophylaxis with 75 mg, twice daily, for
8–10 weeks versus treatment with 150 mg, twice daily,
for 5 days).39
Moreover, available data indicate that antiviral treat-
ment is effective only if antivirals are given within 24–48
hours after onset of initial symptoms.40Some authorities
doubt the feasibility of administering the drugs soon
enough to make a difference during a pandemic.16,32,41
Because of this concern, at least one Canadian teaching
hospital is planning to use all its antiviral stocks for pro-
phylaxis of healthcare workers.42The European Union,
on the other hand, decided not to stockpile any antiviral
medicines, although some European countries have done
The effectiveness and optimal use of antivirals remain
uncertain because of several factors: the propensity of the
influenza virus to mutate, thus increasing the possibility
that resistance could develop; the quantities of antivirals
required for prophylaxis; and the logistical challenges in-
volved in providing sufficiently rapid treatment. Contex-
tual variables that cannot be predicted ahead of time—
such as the quantity of medicines available and the
development of resistance—will probably determine
Hand-Washing and Respiratory Etiquette
The influenza virus actually survives on the hands for
less than 5 minutes,4but regular hand-washing is a com-
monsense action that should be widely followed. It has
been shown to reduce the transmission of respiratory ill-
ness in a military trainee setting,44although there are no
data to demonstrate that hand-washing deters the spread
of influenza within a community.
INGLESBY ET AL.
DISEASE MITIGATION MEASURES
General respiratory hygiene, such as covering one’s
mouth when coughing and using disposable paper tis-
sues, is widely believed to be of some value in diminish-
ing spread, even though there is no hard evidence that
this is so.
Large-Scale Quarantine Measures
There are no historical observations or scientific stud-
ies that support the confinement by quarantine of groups
of possibly infected people for extended periods in order
to slow the spread of influenza. A World Health Organi-
zation (WHO) Writing Group, after reviewing the litera-
ture and considering contemporary international experi-
ence, concluded that “forced isolation and quarantine are
ineffective and impractical.”2Despite this recommenda-
tion by experts, mandatory large-scale quarantine contin-
ues to be considered as an option by some authorities and
The interest in quarantine reflects the views and condi-
tions prevalent more than 50 years ago, when much less
was known about the epidemiology of infectious diseases
and when there was far less international and domestic
travel in a less densely populated world. It is difficult to
identify circumstances in the past half-century when
large-scale quarantine has been effectively used in the
control of any disease. The negative consequences of
large-scale quarantine are so extreme (forced confine-
ment of sick people with the well; complete restriction of
movement of large populations; difficulty in getting crit-
ical supplies, medicines, and food to people inside the
quarantine zone) that this mitigation measure should be
eliminated from serious consideration.
Voluntary home quarantine would be requested of indi-
viduals who are asymptomatic but who have had substan-
tial contact with a person who has influenza—primarily
household members. The aim of voluntary home quaran-
tine is to keep possibly contagious, but still asymptomatic,
people out of circulation. This sounds logical, but this mea-
sure raises significant practical and ethical issues.
If implemented on a communitywide scale, logistical
requirements related to ensuring that quarantined house-
holds across a community had appropriate care and
support would be necessary. How compliant the public
might be is uncertain. Parents would presumably be will-
ing to stay home and care for sick children, but it is not
known, for example, whether college students would
agree to be interned with infected dorm-mates.
Even if home quarantine were generally acceptable to
the community, individuals may not have the economic re-
sources to stay at home. Few employers currently have
provisions for paid absence unless the workers themselves
are ill. For those who are hourly workers or who are self-
employed, the potential loss of wages as a result of having
to stay home simply because an individual had had contact
with sick people might not be acceptable or feasible.
Home quarantine also raises ethical questions. Imple-
mentation of home quarantine could result in healthy, un-
infected people being placed at risk of infection from sick
household members. Practices to reduce the chance of
transmission (hand-washing, maintaining a distance of 3
feet from infected people, etc.) could be recommended,
but a policy imposing home quarantine would preclude,
for example, sending healthy children to stay with rela-
tives when a family member becomes ill. Such a policy
would also be particularly hard on and dangerous to peo-
ple living in close quarters, where the risk of infection
would be heightened.
Travel restrictions, such as closing airports and screen-
ing travelers at borders, have historically been ineffec-
tive. The World Health Organization Writing Group
concluded that “screening and quarantining entering
travelers at international borders did not substantially de-
lay virus introduction in past pandemics . . . and will
likely be even less effective in the modern era.”2
Similar conclusions were reached by public health au-
thorities involved in the international efforts to control
SARS. Canadian health authorities report that “available
screening measures for SARS were limited in their effec-
tiveness in detecting SARS among inbound or outbound
passengers from SARS-affected areas.”45A review by a
WHO Working Group on SARS also concluded that “en-
try screening of travelers through health declarations or
thermal scanning at international borders had little docu-
mented effect on detecting SARS cases.”46
The authors have concluded in a previous analysis47
that screening individuals on domestic interstate flights
for symptoms of flu, as has been proposed in revisions to
the Federal Quarantine Rule (42 CFR Parts 70 and 71),48
would not be effective and would have serious adverse
It is reasonable to assume that the economic costs of
shutting down air or train travel would be very high, and
the societal costs involved in interrupting all air or train
travel would be extreme. Shutting down public trans-
portation for an extended period is not an option in many
cities. In New York City, an average of 4.7 million peo-
ple ride the subway each weekday;49the Los Angeles
Metro averages 1.3 million riders daily.50
Prohibition of Social Gatherings
During seasonal influenza epidemics, public events
with an expected large attendance have sometimes been
cancelled or postponed, the rationale being to decrease
the number of contacts with those who might be conta-
gious. There are, however, no certain indications that
these actions have had any definitive effect on the sever-
ity or duration of an epidemic. Were consideration to be
given to doing this on a more extensive scale and for an
extended period, questions immediately arise as to how
many such events would be affected. There are many so-
cial gatherings that involve close contacts among people,
and this prohibition might include church services, ath-
letic events, perhaps all meetings of more than 100 peo-
ple. It might mean closing theaters, restaurants, malls,
large stores, and bars. Implementing such measures
would have seriously disruptive consequences for a com-
munity if extended through the 8-week period of an epi-
demic in a municipal area, let alone if it were to be ex-
tended through the nation’s experience with a pandemic
(perhaps 8 months).22In the event of a pandemic, atten-
dance at public events or social gatherings could well de-
crease because people were fearful of becoming infected,
and some events might be cancelled because of local con-
cerns. But a policy calling for communitywide cancella-
tion of public events seems inadvisable.
In previous influenza epidemics, the impact of school
closings on illness rates has been mixed.2A study from
Israel reported a decrease in respiratory infections after a
2-week teacher strike, but the decrease was only evident
for a single day.51On the other hand, when schools
closed for a winter holiday during the 1918 pandemic in
Chicago, “more influenza cases developed among pupils
. . . than when schools were in session.”2,52
Schools are often closed for 1–2 weeks early in the de-
velopment of seasonal community outbreaks of influenza
primarily because of high absentee rates, especially in el-
ementary schools, and because of illness among teachers.
This would seem reasonable on practical grounds. How-
ever, to close schools for longer periods is not only im-
practicable but carries the possibility of a serious adverse
outcome. For example, for working parents, school
serves as a form of day care and, in some areas, a source
of nutritional meals for children from lower-income fam-
ilies. In 2005, some 29.5 million children were fed
through the National School Lunch Program; 9.3 million
children received meals as part of the School Breakfast
Program.53A portion of America’s workforce would be
unable to go to work as long as children were out of
schools. Heightened absentee rates could cripple essen-
tial service industries. Teachers might not be paid and a
great many hourly workers (mall and fast-food employ-
ees; school janitorial, security, and kitchen staff; bus dri-
vers) would face particular financial hardship.
Maintaining Personal Distance
It has been recommended that individuals maintain a
distance of 3 feet or more during a pandemic so as to di-
minish the number of contacts with people who may be
infected.10,54The efficacy of this measure is unknown. It
is typically assumed that transmission of droplet-spread
diseases, such as influenza, is limited to “close con-
tacts”—that is, being within 3–6 feet of an infected per-
son.4Keeping a space of 3 feet between individuals
might be possible in some work environments, but it is
difficult to imagine how bus, rail, or air travelers could
stay 3 feet apart from each other throughout an epidemic.
And such a recommendation would greatly complicate
normal daily tasks like grocery shopping, banking, and
Use of Masks and Personal
Masks and other personal protective equipment (PPE)
are essential for controlling transmission of influenza in
hospitals. For people who work in hospitals, current CDC
guidelines for influenza infection control recommend
droplet precautions, including the use of surgical masks.
But HHS planning guidelines also rightly acknowledge that
the uncertainties regarding the potential of virus transmis-
sion at the start of a new pandemic would recommend that
airborne precautions be used in hospitals—that is, N95
masks (already in short supply)7or powered air purifying
respirators (PAPRs).10Patients would be advised to wear
surgical masks to diminish the number of infectious respi-
ratory particles being dispersed into the air, thereby dimin-
ishing the likelihood of further spread.55
In Asia during the SARS period, many people in the
affected communities wore surgical masks when in pub-
lic. But studies have shown that the ordinary surgical
mask does little to prevent inhalation of small droplets
bearing influenza virus.56The pores in the mask become
blocked by moisture from breathing, and the air stream
simply diverts around the mask. There are few data avail-
able to support the efficacy of N95 or surgical masks out-
side a healthcare setting. N95 masks need to be fit-tested
to be efficacious and are uncomfortable to wear for more
than an hour or two.55,57More important, the supplies of
such masks are too limited to even ensure that hospitals
will have necessary reserves.58
COMMUNITY RESPONSE TO
A PANDEMIC: A SUMMARY
OF POSSIBLE ACTIONS
There is no question but that another influenza pan-
demic will occur and that every community needs to be
INGLESBY ET AL.
DISEASE MITIGATION MEASURES
prepared for that eventuality. Influenza is unlike any
other disease epidemic in the rapidity with which it
spreads and, as it emerges, the number of illnesses that it
can cause over a period of a few months. It is unpre-
dictable as to when a pandemic might begin. It could be
next autumn or it may not be for a number of years. The
world has weathered three pandemics during the past
century and will certainly surmount the next one. How
much damage the pandemic will cause depends to a large
extent on the state of readiness of each community and
each metropolitan region and the efficacy and reason-
ableness of its response. The following is a synopsis of
the authors’ judgments regarding possible disease miti-
Vaccination. Vaccination is, by far, the most important
preventive measure, but pandemic strain vaccine will not
be available for at least the next season. Meanwhile,
communitywide use of the seasonal influenza vaccine is
desirable, as it is likely that outbreaks of seasonal flu will
occur even if there is pandemic influenza.
Provision for isolation and medical care of in-
fluenza patients. A Regional Health Care Operations
Committee27is a priority need to assure collaboration
and cooperation across the community (hospitals, med-
ical care providers, Red Cross, law enforcement, me-
dia, and others), both for advanced planning and during
the epidemic to assure that the large numbers of flu-in-
fected patients can be cared for in hospital, at home, or
in special facilities. Special arrangements are needed
for expanding surge capacity in hospitals, for support
to permit home care of patients, and for the provision
of additional volunteer healthcare staff.
A communication strategy and plans. Open and fre-
quent communications with the public are essential. This
involves regular press conferences, hot lines, and provi-
sion of information through civic leaders, churches,
schools, and businesses. An important message is to re-
quest that all who are ill remain isolated at home or in the
hospital but to encourage others to continue to come to
work so that essential services can be sustained.
Closure of schools. It has been the practice in many
communities to close the schools for 10–14 days at the
beginning of an epidemic of seasonal flu, primarily be-
cause of the number of both teachers and pupils who are
absent. This is a reasonable initiative, often expected in
many communities, that also serves to demonstrate ac-
tion on the part of officials. Closing schools for longer
periods in hopes of mitigating the epidemic by decreas-
ing contacts among students is not warranted unless all
other likely points of assembly are closed (e.g., malls,
fast-food restaurants, churches, recreation centers, etc.).
Such widespread closures, sustained throughout the pan-
demic, would almost certainly have serious adverse so-
cial and economic effects.
Hand-washing and respiratory hygiene. Everyone
should be encouraged to wash their hands after coming in
contact with people who are ill and to cover their mouths
when coughing or sneezing.
Cancelling or postponing meetings or events in-
volving large numbers of people. Intuitively, this
would appear to be a helpful adjunct to reduce contacts
among people and so mitigate the effects of the epi-
demic. However, individuals normally have a great
many contacts throughout the community on a daily
basis: shopping in stores, attending church, traveling
on public transport, and so on. Recognizing that the
spread of influenza is primarily by person-to-person
contact, any one individual, even in a large gathering,
would have only a limited number of such close en-
counters with infected people. Thus, cancelling or
postponing large meetings would not be likely to have
any significant effect on the development of the epi-
demic. While local concerns may result in the closure
of particular events for logical reasons, a policy direct-
ing communitywide closure of public events seems in-
Quarantine. As experience shows, there is no basis for
recommending quarantine either of groups or individu-
als. The problems in implementing such measures are
formidable, and secondary effects of absenteeism and
community disruption as well as possible adverse conse-
quences, such as loss of public trust in government and
stigmatization of quarantined people and groups, are
likely to be considerable.
Screening passengers at borders or closing air or rail
hubs. Experience has shown that these actions are not ef-
fective and could have serious adverse consequences;
thus, they are not recommended.
An overriding principle. Experience has shown that
communities faced with epidemics or other adverse
events respond best and with the least anxiety when the
normal social functioning of the community is least dis-
rupted. Strong political and public health leadership to
provide reassurance and to ensure that needed medical
care services are provided are critical elements. If either
is seen to be less than optimal, a manageable epidemic
could move toward catastrophe.
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Manuscript received July 1, 2006;
accepted for publication September 5, 2006.
Address reprint requests to:
Jennifer B. Nuzzo, SM
Center for Biosecurity of UPMC
Pier IV Building, Suite 210
621 E. Pratt St.
Baltimore, MD 21202