A pandemic, says the World Health Organization (WHO), is the worldwide spread of a new disease. When new strains of life-threatening illnesses such as influenza strike people who have no protection from natural immunity, a pandemic results.
An epidemic is an outbreak of disease that attacks many people at about the same time and may spread through one or more communities. An endemic is an infectious illness that is confined to a particular region or population, such as malaria in parts of Africa.
Historically, the viruses behind human pandemics have come from animal strains. The very young, the very old, and people with certain medical conditions are all at the highest risk of death from an immunity-dodging disease.
The U.S. government takes the threat of a population-withering pandemic very seriously. Any invader that moves swiftly and ignores international borders is a danger to national security.
The problem is that it’s hard to keep germs from entering the country – or your office at work. Travelers from around the globe arrive constantly. Odds are that, sooner or later, a very virulent disease – Ebola, avian flu, SARS, MERS, or Zika, perhaps – will take hold in the U.S. and hospitalize or kill hundreds of thousands of residents.
The notion that infected persons could bring a pandemic home to the Land of the Free is not at all far-fetched. An epidemic abroad is just one plane flight away from becoming the next pandemic in another country.
Ebola is on the rise in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Peter Salama, WHO Deputy Director-General for Emergency Preparedness and Response, tweeted in early August 2018 about the Ebola outbreak: “We are on an epidemiological precipice…There is not a minute to lose.”
Highly lethal strains of H7N9 avian influenza (bird flu) are infecting Chinese citizens. The fast-spreading respiratory illness is accompanied by multiorgan dysfunction – and it is spread by only a small droplet.
“There have been five epidemics of H7N9 since 2013 in China alone, the most recent between the fall of 2016 and fall of 2017. Across these epidemics, among the 1,565 confirmed cases, about 40 percent of infected individuals died,” according to an article in Foreign Policy.
With more than 60 nonstop flights every day linking China and the U.S., the 30,000 or so passengers transiting back and forth make a possible pandemic into a clear and present danger.
The WHO is raising consciousness about the importance of vigilance and preparedness for any widespread contagion. The international organization is a strong backer of the Joint External Evaluation (JEE), which is “is a voluntary, collaborative, multisectoral process to assess country capacities to prevent, detect and rapidly respond to public health risks whether occurring naturally or due to deliberate or accidental events.”
A performance review of the JEE revealed that, among the 55 countries that agreed to participate in the assessment of their nation’s ability to deal with a pandemic was “a large majority of countries scoring less than 4 (indicating non-sustainable or undeveloped capacities) on a majority of indicators.”
The report called its finding “a critical wake-up call” for all countries to improve their public health capacities. Not only are world groups underprepared for the next pandemic, they are hard-pressed to care of their own endemics:
“The poor performance on many of these indicators…suggest that countries are not only ill-prepared for cross-border outbreaks but are struggling to provide key public health services that are critical to keeping their populations healthy and safe. Without these core capacities in place, future outbreaks may become large-scale pandemics.”
True survivalists never wait on someone else to step up when disaster strikes. We hope for the best and prepare for the worst. Here’s how each one of us can get ready for the next endemic, epidemic, or pandemic.
First and foremost, make a plan that includes everyone in your emergency preparedness community: family, friends, and neighbors. Train yourselves in survival basics and come together regularly to review and update possible scenarios and how to deal with them as a team. Be leaders, not victims.
Discuss what you would do in case of a forced evacuation. Where would you go? Assemble supplies to pack in your bug-out kits. Also talk about sheltering in place in case leaving your home isn’t a good option.
Get familiar with the medical resources near you. Knowing the location of all the doctors and healthcare providers in your neck of the woods could be life-saving during a pandemic. Organize local first aid and CPR classes. Build emergency phone trees where one person calls two more, and so on down the list.
Diseases are spread by other animals and insects (typhus and malaria, for example) or through the exchange of bodily fluids (HIV) or through the air when infected people cough or sneeze. The last type of respiratory illness, including influenza, is the most hazardous.
Even during the European Middle Ages, people realized that breathing in toxic air was a bad thing. They devised protective masks, some with bird-like beaks that could hold warding herbs. Modern preppers lay in a stock of cloth medical masks and a chemical gas mask or N95 respirator (which blocks up to 95 percent of small air-borne particles) to avoid inhaling tainted air.
The U.S. federal government has these tips for getting ready before a pandemic occurs:
• Store a two week supply of water and food.
• Periodically check your regular prescription drugs to ensure a continuous supply in your home.
• Have any nonprescription drugs and other health supplies on hand, including pain relievers, stomach remedies, cough and cold medicines, fluids with electrolytes, and vitamins.
• Get copies and maintain electronic versions of health records from doctors, hospitals, pharmacies, and other sources and store them, for personal reference. Get help accessing electronic help records.
• Talk with family members and loved ones about how they would be cared for if they got sick, or what will be needed to care for them in your home.
Two weeks of food and water supplies is a bare-bones minimum. Store more if you can manage it, enough to last four to six weeks. Figure a gallon of water per person per day.
Keep warm coats and blankets ready for an emergency viral outbreak. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) advises stocking up on non-prescription medicines and other health supplies, including a standard first aid kit, razors and shaving cream, feminine sanitary supplies, pain relievers, stomach remedies, and cold medicines.
In the chaos surrounding a widespread pandemic, expect vital public services such as hospitals, banks, stores, post offices, and telephone and cell phone companies, to be unavailable. Keep cash on hand in a safe place and tell no one about it. If you do so safely, store extra vehicle fuel in case the gas pumps go out.
Parents need to make extra plans where their children are concerned. If they can’t go to school because it shut down or they themselves are sick, who will take care of them and where? Be sure to have extra medical supplies and medications ready for your children and any other household member with special needs.
During a pandemic, limit the spread of germs and prevent further infection by:
Avoiding close contact with people who are sick.
Staying home and keeping your distance from others when you are sick to protect them from getting sick, too.
• Covering your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing.
• Washing your hands often to help kill germs.
• Avoiding touching your eyes, nose, or mouth.
• Practicing other good health habits: get plenty of good sleep, be physically active, manage your stress, drink plenty of fluids, and eat nutritious food.
Be prepared to stay informed even if society around you collapses. Get an emergency radio and practice using it. Don’t panic. Get the facts about your situation before making further plans.
One of the best things each of us can do is to keep our bodies tuned and fit, with strong immune systems and healthy hearts, lungs, and limbs – before a pandemic rears its ugly head.