The CDC is now categorizing flu epidemics as Category 1 through 5 just like hurricanes are categorized. A Cat 5 flu would be far more devastating than a Cat 5hurricane. It would leave 1.8 million dead and it would shut down major cities for months. The new categories are part of a Pandemic Severity Index released as part of a new comprehensive strategy to deal with a severe influenza outbreak. You can see the Pandemic Severity Index graph on the right.
You can see the new Community Strategy for Pandemic Influenza Mitigation from the government here on the PandemicFlu.gov website. The plan was developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in collaboration with other Federal agencies and partners in the public health, education, business, healthcare, and private sectors.
The New York Times has a report on the new guidelines. The Times says it was partly based on the response to the 1918 epidemic.
Today's guidelines are partly based on a recent study of how 44 cities fared in the 1918 epidemic conducted jointly by the C.D.C. and the University of Michiganís medical school. Historians and epidemiologists pored over hospital records and newspaper clippings, trying to determine what factors partly spared some cities and doomed others.
While a few tiny towns escaped the epidemic entirely by cutting off all contact with outside, most cities took less drastic measures. These included isolating the sick and quarantining homes and rooming houses, closing schools, churches, bars and other gathering places, canceling parades, ball games, theaters and other public events, staggering factory hours, barring door-to-door sales, discouraging the use of public transport and encouraging the use of face masks.
The most effective measure seemed to be moving early and quickly. For example, said Dr. Howard Markel, a medical historian and one of the study's leaders, Philadelphia, the worst-hit city, had nearly three times as many sick and dead per capita as St. Louis, which had was hit weeks later by the virus moving inland from the Eastern Seaboard and had time to react as soon as flu cases rose above averages.
"No matter how you set up the model," Dr. Markel said, "the cities that acted earlier and with more layered protective measures fared better."
In oder to prepare early it will also be crucial that local governments have access to all the information they need. In other words, the federal government needs to rapidly share information with local governments so they can prepare as quickly as possible.