The advisory guidelines, sent out to cities nationwide, include recommendations of closing schools for three months, canceling movies and sports games and utilizing staggered working hours to reduce crowding – and contamination.
While these measures likely would disrupt day-to-day life, health officials argued the guidelines are meant to prevent the spread of the flu if an outbreak occurred. The last pandemic of deadly flu, in 1918, killed some 50 million to 100 million people worldwide -- between 2.5 and 5 percent of the human population -- and lasted for nearly 18 months.
The new guidelines, created by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, would categorize flu like a hurricane: A Category 5 flu would be seen as most catastrophic, killing an assumed 1.8 million Americans and sickening many others. The lowest category of flu assumes nearly 90,000 dead, similar numbers to a bad season of flu.
However, according to Dr. Howard Markel, a medical historian and one of the study’s leaders, early reaction and prevention is key.
“No matter how you set up the model, the cities that acted earlier (during the 1918 flu) and with more layered protective measures fared better,” Markel told the New York Times.
The guidelines were created from research done by the CDC and the University of Michigan, which looked into the history of the 1918 flu and what was most effective. Many of the measures implemented then are being recommended now.
Forced quarantines, which were recommended by President Bush in 2005 in case of a massive deadly flu, are not part of the CDC's guideline recommendations.
The government also is adding another measure by stockpiling the antiviral drug Tamiflu, but that only is useful if taken in the first 48 hours of infection.
The guidelines come days after congressional staffers received a warning that the threat of flu: Andrew Pavia, chief of pediatric infectious diseases at the University of Utah, warned them Tuesday that the threat of pandemic flu still is real for the United States. Pavia said that it was not a matter of "if" but "when" the flu would hit.
However, any correlation to the launch of the guidelines and that meeting is not evidential.