It seems like every time we turn around there is some deadly disease in the news. In recent years, there has been Ebola and the Avian influence A (H7N9) virus. There has also been MERS-CoV and many more. While these are epidemics of serious proportion, they are not yet pandemics, but they could be.
The best time to prepare for a pandemic is when a serious disruptive event of the pandemic-type is not on the immediate horizon. That said, a pandemic can occur at any time. It is this unknown aspect of pandemics that make them a potential reality we must prepare for.
This article is Month Two in the series “12 Months of Prepping for Disruptive Events”.
12 Months of Prepping for Disruptive Events: Pandemics
What is the Difference between an Epidemic and a Pandemic?
Because of their similarities, the terms epidemic and pandemic are often used interchangeably, but it is incorrect to do so. The difference between the two is the scope. Let me explain.
Both happen quickly, usually spreading to a large segment of the population in days or weeks. However, an epidemic is typically contained in a defined area. You might say that pandemics are epidemics that have gotten out of control and have spread to multiple areas worldwide.
Here is something else you need to know. Widespread diseases are not all pandemics. To be a pandemic, the disease must also be deadly. It must also be contagious.
You might not even know there are pandemic diseases that could become an issue for you personally. An example is H1N1 that evolved into a pandemic in 2009. There are even oldies rearing their ugly heads once again such as cholera, malaria and the measles.
Just remember this: in most cases, these diseases start out as regional outbreaks. At that point, they are an epidemic. If they spread out and become national or global, they become a pandemic. That is the difference between the two.
Can a Pandemic Really Happen?
Pandemics are popular science fiction fodder. Most people have seen the movies detailing the horrors of living through a pandemic. Such popular current shows like “Contagion” show the serious side-effects that go beyond the immediate terror of the disease. The point is, there is more to deal with when a pandemic breaks out than just staying healthy. You have to stay safe from other dangers as well.
Alas, scary movies about pandemics don’t make the threat real to most people. In spite of hearing about pandemics, they don’t seem to be a real threat. Being a victim of a pandemic will typically fall into the “it will never happen to me” mindset aka the normalcy bias.
Most of us have been exposed to the dangers, though. We just don’t always see the surrounding diseases as something that could produce the effects of the disasters in the movies.
Historically speaking there have been many pandemics that killed large percentages of the population of the world. Current pandemics that exist today include:
Skills, Strategies, and Supplies You Need to Prepare for a Pandemic
Most of the historic pandemics lasted for more than 2 years. Some are still going on. Others are popping up such as the Zika virus. Dealing with a long-term outbreak takes some special preparations.
Know the symptoms
It is important to know what to look for regarding the prevailing illness. If you must meet with an outside person, it will help you identify whether it is safe to approach.
Knowing what to look for will also help you keep an eye on loved ones during isolation, and to prepare to quarantine them immediately at the first sign of symptoms. It is important to remember that w hen in doubt, always assume infection. It is much better to be safe than sorry.
Wear protective gear
When dealing with outsiders, always wear protective gear, even if they don’t seem infected.
Learn how to properly disinfect your home and your clothing
Make washing your hands with plenty of soap and water a habit now, before sickness settles in. Also become proficient at using essential oils, alcohol, and bleach as disinfecting agents.
Additional Reading: Survival Basics: Hand & Surface Hygiene When There’s No Water to Spare
Develop sealed air ventilation
Locking yourself inside your home isn’t enough. It will protect you from the angry mobs roaming the streets. It won’t necessarily protect you from the reason the mobs exist.
If the virus or disease is airborne it can infiltrate a home. You need to have supplies to seal up all vents, windows and doors.
But then how will you get fresh air? Sealed rooms would be fine for a few days, but not months or more. You can find out how seal your home and build a sealed air ventilation system by reading Safely Shelter in Place During a Pandemic.
Create a “sick room”
Heaven forbid anyone in your family does get sick, but if they do, you need to be prepared. When you are confined for long periods of time, it may not even be the danger outside that causes the illness.
People become hurt, catch colds, and get headaches. It is a fact of life. You can’t just run out to the store easily when there is a pandemic going on. You have to have all of the supplies you need ready.
Make sure you have the common pain killers and antibiotics. If anyone in the home needs prescription medications, it is a good idea to have a rotating supply that will last. You should also have plenty of sanitation supplies like disposable gloves, bleach, alcohol, hydrogen peroxide and masks.
Learn how to Effectively Use Essential Oils
Essential oils store well and a little goes a long way. Become proficient at using essential oils for common first aid ailments (see DIY Miracle Healing Salve) and for relief from aches an pains.
Essential oils are also powerful antimicrobials, and can ward off sickness and germs when used topically or diffused into the air with an essential oil diffuser. Two especially useful oils are Oregano and Shield Blend (or other thieves-like blend).
Prepare for Possible Outdoor Excursions
Anytime there is a long-term disaster, the possibility of needing to leave home for an emergency run for supplies becomes a possibility. When the disaster is a pandemic, however, there is the added danger of exposure.
Always wear an N95 medical mask to protect yourself from airborne disease. Wear long sleeves and long pants. Preferably seal the cuffs of sleeves and pant legs. Stay clear of other people if at all possible.
Stock Up on Games
That may not seem like something important during serious illness outbreaks, but boredom sets in quickly. You are likely going to be stuck in a small space with your entire family for a long time. Having board games, card games and even video games at the ready will help alleviate frustration and cabin fever.
Store Plenty of Food and Water
Have enough food and clean water to survive in isolated quarantine conditions for up to a year or more.
Set Up Sanitation Stations
Have bleach trays and sanitations stations set up at entrances to walk through before entering the home.
Use Disinfectant Liberally and Often
Have spray bottles filled with a bleach/water mixture to disinfect the home and clothes. Use them liberally and use them often. Remember,however, that bleach has a shelf life and should be rotated and replaced on an annual basis.
Here is a the disinfecting: ratio: 1/4 (minimum) to 3/4 (maximum) cup of bleach to 1 gallon of cool water or 1 tablespoon (minimum) to 3 tablespoons (maximum) of bleach to 1 quart of water.
Contact Time: Let stand for 2 minutes, then wipe or air dry
Set Up a Quarantine Area
The quarantine area should be set up outside, if at all possible. Having a quarantine area will allow late arrivals to remain isolated until you are sure they are safe to enter. The quarantine spot should be well-stocked with food, water, and amusements such as books and games.
Have a Plan for Safe Burial
If the unthinkable happens and authorities have lost control of the situation, there will be sickness and death. This is an aspect of prepping no one likes to talk about but the reality is that with a massive pandemic, there will be deaths.
Nothing beats having things in place when you need them. By the time an outbreak happens, it will likely be too late to gather up the necessary supplies. I realize that this may seem as though I am preaching to the choir, but get your food, water, and first aid supplies together, know what you need to do to shelter in place, and gather everything you need to set up a sick room in your home.
Recommendation: Bug In or Bug Out?
Your best bet during a pandemic is to bug in (also used interchangeably with the term “hunker down”) and stay safe. Bugging out is not a good option during a pandemic for a couple of reasons. First, going outside exposes you to the prevalent disease. Second, going outside exposes you to the desperate masses who were not prepared.
Remember, a pandemic is not something that will be short in duration. You and your loved ones need to be prepared to hunker down and survive until the danger is past. That could take months, maybe up to a year before the outbreak is under control.
In some cases, it could take longer and indeed, some historic pandemics took many years to contain. Between 1347 and 1453 the Black Death decimated a third of the population of Europe. Even though the US is a much younger country than others doesn’t mean it is immune. Between 1900 and 1904 the San Francisco bubonic plague decimated the West Coast.
The US has also had several outbreaks of Cholera, the measles, scarlet fever, typhoid, polio, whooping cough, diphtheria, the Spanish Flu and of course HIV/AIDS.
Throughout this article, there are a number of links you can click to learn more about preparing for a pandemic and especially about bugging in during a shelter in place situation.
Here are some additional resources
15 Things You Should Do Today to Prepare for a Pandemic Flu
16 Items To Help You Hunker Down in Comfort
How to Make DIY Hand Sanitizer With Essential Oils
Zika Virus Handbook: A Doctor Explains All You Need To Know About The Pandemic
11 Things To Do When You Must Hunker Down in Place
The Final Word
Pandemics are difficult because you are battling three separate problems: staying healthy, staying safe, and staying sane during isolation. That being said, being aware of the seriousness of the situation, and what you need to do to survive a pandemic gives you a big advantage over your neighbors who may not be at all prepared.
Being prepared will increase the chances that everyone in your home will be able to deal with it all, and come out on the other side in good shape.
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Bargain Bin: Below you will find links to just a handful of the many supplies your will need to stay safe during a pandemic. I have also link to a book that graphically describes the aftermath of a pandemic in a fictionalized format.
Brushfire Plague: This is one of the first post-apocalyptic books I read (following One Second After). To this day, it remains a favorite and is my list of must read books for anyone that is serious about prepping.
3M N95 Particulate & Respirator Mask: This is an inexpensive mask that can be used in a variety of emergency situations. They come in a box of 20 and are NIOSH-certified. The molded cone design is fluid and splash resistant and will greatly reduce your exposure to airborne particles. For even more protection, consider the Moldex 2730 N100 Respirator Mask:
Disposable Protective Coveralls: There are plenty to choose from. I purchased these DuPont White Tyvek Disposable Coveralls With Hood in a medium and it fit me okay with a bit of excess room left over. Shelly needs a large, definitely.
Bicycle Canasta Games Playing Cards: This timeless classic will keep the entire family occupied when the power it out. Playing cards or board games should be in everyone’s preparedness kit.
No Rinse Cleansing & Deodorizing Bathing Wipes: A am a huge fan of these bath wipes. I have found that one wipe is more than enough for a complete “bath”. They are perfect for use in the sick-room. Once they are used, don’t through the individual wipes away. They can be washed and used again as a cleaning rag. Here is my review.
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A frequent question I get on Backdoor Survival has to do with healthcare matters when there is no doctor around. This is the definite source of survival medical information for all Prepper’s and is my go-to bible for survival medicine.