Should you worry about a pandemic?
A few years ago there was a lot of buzz in the news about Swine Flu (H1N1) epidemics and quarantines. Before that the concern was Bird Flu and before that it was SARS. There’s no way to know with certainty how much of a threat any of these diseases might be. But what is certain is that if we are not prepared, a local or widespread epidemic could have a devastating impact on us, our family and our community. It would be wise to prepare now for the possibility of an epidemic.
What is a pandemic?
- People infected with the disease may be isolated. This means that they are separated from healthy people to reduce the chances of spreading the flu.
- People who have been exposed may also be quarantined. This means those who have been exposed to the flu virus are physically separated from those who have not been exposed.
- A practice called “social distancing” may be in effect to limit face-to-face interaction in order to prevent exposure and transmission of the disease.
- Many things may be shut down or be canceled. This includes public transportation, gathering places, events, schools and businesses.
- Community services and utilities may be disrupted.
- Health care services could become overwhelmed. These circumstances could significantly affect you. You may need to reorganize your life to care for loved ones or to receive care.
- You may lose income if your workplace closes or you become ill. School closures can result in the need for home-schooling or other activities for homebound children.
- Access to food and other household goods may become limited.
- The many changes in day-to-day living can cause anxiety and stress.
How does a pandemic flu spread?
The germs behind most pandemics are airborne. The disease is transmitted when an infected person coughs or sneezes. Coughing and sneezing produces droplets which can pass the illness to others when inhaled. These droplets may also land on surfaces. Some viruses can remain active for up to 48 hours. The incubation period for a pandemic flu virus is 1-4 days. This means that once a family member, classmate or fellow worker shows signs, you have been exposed. Quarantines should last until 24 hours after all symptoms and fever have passed
Important steps to follow to prevent the spread of the flu
- Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. If you don’t have a tissue, cough or sneeze into the elbow of your sleeve.
- Wash your hands with running water and soap or alcohol-based hand sanitizer after coughing or sneezing.
- Wash hands as often as necessary including after touching public surfaces such as door knobs and grocery carts, and after shaking hands.
- Use paper towels instead of cloth towels for hand washing.
- If you become ill or someone in your home/apartment is ill, stay home until at least 24 hours after all symptoms have passed.
- Clean hard surfaces and items that have frequent hand contact with such as desks, door knobs, keyboards, or pens, with disinfectants.
- If you have been around someone who is ill, change clothes and wash exposed clothing immediately.
- If a family member or roommate becomes sick, isolate them in a separate room. Limit the number of people who take care of the sick person and provide a surgical mask for the sick person to wear whenever anyone else is in the room.
- Use disposable gloves whenever you enter the room of someone who is ill and dispose of them immediately after leaving their room.
- Get a medical evaluation for sick as soon as symptoms occur. This is especially important if the person has any preexisting medical conditions that puts them at risk for complications.
- Discuss with your family what your plan is in the event of a pandemic and ensuing quarantine.
- Have prepared dinners in freezer. This will be important if mom gets sick or a large number of the family are sick.
- Get copies of medical records for all members of the family. You will use these when talking with medical personnel over the phone. Even your doctor may be working from home if he becomes ill, and away from any records.
- Get a three-month supply of the foods you normally eat and inventory it so you know what you have on hand.
- Have basic medical supplies on hand to fight the symptoms of the flu, (headache, fever, diarrhea, cough and vomiting).
- Have supplies on hand for hygiene and to prevent the spread of disease to other family members
- Get a supply of foods and drink for those who are ill or recovering from the flu. (i.e. supplies to make chicken soup, freezer pops, ginger ale, rice, jello, teas, Tylenol, etc.)
- Designate a room to be your quarantine room. If possible it should be a room that is near a bathroom that can also be part of your quarantine space.
- Teach your family proper hygiene habits and practice them.
- Design a plan to communicate with family and friends during a period of quarantine.
- Prepare to live without electricity and a clean source of water