Pandemic influenza is not your average flu. It's a large-scale outbreak of a highly infectious illness and spreads easily from person to person, regardless of age or physical health. Unlike the "ordinary" influenza that occurs every winter in Canada, pandemic influenza can strike at any time of year.

We know influenza pandemics are recurring events but they are unpredictable. It has been 36 years since the last influenza pandemic and, although it is impossible to predict when the next one will hit, experts agree that we are overdue for one.

World Health Organization recommendations
The risk of the H5N1 virus (avian influenza or 'bird flu') developing into the next human pandemic influenza is immediate and very real. WHO has recommended that all countries undertake urgent action to prepare.

What you need to know about a pandemic
  • About 8,000 Canadians die from seasonal flu each winter. Health Canada estimates that a pandemic flu could claim 11,000–58,000 lives.
  • It's not a question of if, but when the next flu pandemic will strike.
  • An influenza pandemic could last for a year or more, infecting up to 1/3 of the Canadian population.
  • Businesses, hospitals and government agencies will feel the effects of an outbreak.
  • Could cost the Canadian economy billions of dollars in lost productivity and medical expenses.
  • 15% to 35% of the workforce may be ill at any one time.
  • Unlike other disasters, pandemic flu will touch everyone in every part of the country, and every part of the world. Moving operations to another location is not likely to be a viable option.

How your business can prepare for a pandemic
Considering Canada's reliance on trade, Canada's economy could suffer by as much as $60 billion due to a pandemic outbreak—even more if the Canada–US border were to experience serious difficulties. For more information, read CME's guide.

It is projected that up to 30% to 35% of the workforce may be absent due to the effects of this virus on individuals and families. That's why it's important for small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs) to make plans to ensure continuity of essential services. Your business should plan ahead to ensure you can maintain service delivery during a pandemic by developing a Business Continuity Plan (BCP).