Planning for Pandemic
In 2009 the CDC confirmed an outbreak of human cases of H1N1 (swine) flu in North America and the outbreak quickly spread around the world. Two months later the World Health Organization raised its flu alert level to Phase 6 – the highest level – indicating that a global pandemic was underway. Then Hollywood made a bunch of zombie movies that played on our reactions and fear of pandemics, and, well, the facts have gotten a little…muddy.
Pandemics are fascinating things – from a birds eye view we can watch the daily patterns of entire cities as organisms spread quickly. For a fascinating look at the cholera outbreak of 1854, The Ghost Map by Steven Johnson provides a modern look at the historical data. And, anyone can be an amateur epidemiologist by visiting nearly any cemetery in the world with turn-of-the-century graves. You’ll likely see groupings of headstones dating between 1918 and 1920 that tell the story of how the Spanish Flu claimed entire families or all the children in a family within days. It’s heartbreaking – and it wasn’t all that long ago.
Pandemic is fascinating from a scientific standpoint, but it’s not so fascinating from a real and personal perspective, especially when you start to think about how fast it can happen and how to keep your family safe. It pays to be educated – and not by Hollywood.
First, a pandemic is an epidemic of an infectious disease that has spread across a large region – over continents or worldwide. Some pandemics in recent history are smallpox, tuberculosis, HIV and, of course, H1N1. Because they are so unpredictable and fast moving, the time to prepare for a pandemic is now. Educating yourself on the magnitude of what can happen during a pandemic outbreak (again, keep your head and subtract the zombies) and what you can do to lessen the impact of a pandemic on you and your family will go a long way toward stability and peace of mind.
To begin with what you should have on hand, here’s a checklist from Ready.gov:
- Two-week supply of water and food.
- Two-week supply of prescription drugs.
- Any necessary nonprescription drugs and other health supplies on hand, including pain relievers, stomach remedies, cough and cold medicines, fluids with electrolytes, and vitamins.
(If you’re a regular reader and advice-follower of this blog, you’re going to be much better prepared than just stashing food and medicine. Don’t forget the card games.
Next, it’s important to determine if you’re at high risk for infectious disease:
- People age 50 or older
- Pregnant women
- People with chronic medical conditions
- Children age 6 months and younger
- People who live with or care for anyone who is at high risk
If you are at high risk, it’s especially important to follow the guidelines for limiting the spread of germs and preventing infection. Here’s a list from the CDC:
- Avoid close contact with people who are sick. When you are sick, keep your distance from others to protect them from getting sick too.
- If possible, stay home from work, school, and errands when you are sick. You will help prevent others from catching your illness.
- Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing. It may prevent those around you from getting sick.
- Washing your hands often will help protect you from germs.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Germs are often spread when a person touches something that is contaminated with germs and then touches his or her eyes, nose, or mouth.
- Practice other good health habits. Get plenty of sleep, be physically active, manage your stress, drink plenty of fluids, and eat nutritious food.
A little education and preparation goes a long with pandemics. Modern technology and medicine are hand in glove when it comes to predicting pandemics and notifying the public. If it happens, the best thing you can do is stay home for awhile – and make sure you’re prepared.