I’ve been seeing several news reports of the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, and got to thinking about pandemics in general. Lots of people fear a global pandemic. If you had to rank a list of super scary threats, pandemic would be pretty high on the list. We’ve all seen movies like Contagion, which is scary enough. We also associate pandemic with nightmarish throngs of zombie like disease ridden creatures. But let’s pull back to reality and get some sense of what is a pandemic and whether they can happen.
What is a pandemic? According to Flu.gov, a pandemic is defined as a global outbreak of disease. It’s not determined by the number of deaths, but by how quickly it spreads.
Do they happen? Pandemics do happen, as in three outbreaks of flu pandemic in the 20th century:
- Spanish flu killed $40-50 million in 1918
- Asian flu in 1957 killed 2 million people
- 1 million deaths from Hong Kong flu in 1968
What are the chances?
I don’t have a crystal ball, and there is really no way to predict when and how a pandemic can happen. Certain “tells” would be:
- A new virus emerges, which means people would have little or no immunity to it
- The virus is easily spread to others
- Virus starts affecting various countries around the globe at the same time. This is not hard to imagine, given the speed of air travel.
- Outbreaks come in waves.
This would overwhelm the healthcare systems in affected countries, cause a shortage of medicines and caregivers, large scale deaths would disrupt the economy and systems. People would not be able to come to work if they are too sick or too busy caring for family members.
What can an average person do to be prepared?
The basics for preparing for a pandemic is similar to preparing for a regional disaster, such as hurricane or ice storm, except for a few added precautions:
- Have at least two weeks worth of stored food that does not need refrigeration. Don’t forget to store enough for kids, pets and other special diets. Increase your supplies if you have the means or the space.
- Store enough water for your family for at least two weeks- the recommended amount is at least one gallon per person per day.
- Have a power outage kit, which means backup lighting, cooking and communications, in case of power disruptions, Your car survival kit should also be fully stocked.
- Have some emergency cash.
- Keep a fully stocked first aid kit, complete with backup prescriptions
- Make sure you also have toilet and sanitation provisions
- Be aware – pay attention to the news, both mainstream and alternate sources.
Stock up on additional supplies including:
- N-95 face masks
- hand soap and antibacterial wipes
- bleach – a good standby when in comes to disinfect surfaces. According to the Clorox website, use 2 tbsp bleach to one gallon of water, to sanitize a surface. Bleach loses its potency so always mix a fresh batch for cleaning.
- garbage bags for disposal of waste
Bolster your Immune System
Strengthening your immune system is always good to do, whether there is a risk or pandemic or not:
- Get enough sleep and rest.
- Relax and avoid stress.
- Exercise at least three to four days a week.
- Eat a healthy diet. Take vitamin supplements if you feel you don’t eat well enough.
A few other tips:
Have a plan Decide in advance under what circumstances you would start keeping kids home from school, staying home from work or creating a sick room in your house.
Discuss your plan with family members and plan care giving tasks ahead of time.
Avoid crowds Being among lots of people increases your chances of getting contaminated. If you live in a condo or apartment complex, you would need to avoid common areas, possibly take the stairs that are used less frequently than elevators. If you must be around others, you’d need to wear a mask
Wash your hands Get everyone in the family in the habit of washing their hands as they come home from public places and before eating. If you cannot wash your hands right away, use antibacterial wipes.
Cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze Use tissues or a handkerchief to cover up and avoid spreading germs.
Stop touching your eyes and face Once you touch something with germs, and you touch near your eyes or mouth, you can instantly catch a disease. Be aware of this and if you cannot wash your hands right away, at least keep your hands away from your face.
Disinfect surfaces around you Droplets from coughing and sneezing travel several feet. These germ filled droplets can last for hours on surfaces such as paper, steel or plastic. For this reason, keep a box of antibacterial wipes and clean door knobs, light switches and other commonly touched items around you.
Learn basic first aid and herbal remedies If there is a pandemic, hospital emergency rooms and doctors’ office would be overwhelmed, and also filled with contagious people. If you had a minor issue such as a cut or a cold, and can take of it at home using first aid, essential oils or herbal remedies, you are better off avoiding these places.
Recommended reading: If you are interested in finding out about the time when the Ebola virus made it all the way to Reston, VA, read The Hot Zone, a nonfiction story that is all the more scary because it really happened.
Preparing for a pandemic is similar to being prepared for other disasters. There is no need to panic or live in fear – being prepared will help you sleep better at night.
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Contributed by Bernie Carr of The Apartment Prepper.
Bernie Carr is the author of The Prepper’s Pocket Guide: 101 Easy Things you can Do to Ready your Home for a Disaster. Offering a simple DIY approach, this book breaks down the vital steps beginners can take to prepare for any disaster. Bernie also writes The Apartment Prepper’s blog, which offers helpful advice to help families be prepared while living in an apartment in the city.