The population of mankind has been suffering from the onset of pandemics since the beginning of mass civilization. In 430 BC, an early version of typhoid fever killed a quarter of the Athenian population in a matter of four years. Beginning in 1348, the Black Death struck Europe in the form of the bubonic and pneumonic plagues, killing upwards of 50% of the entire continent’s population. Fast forward to the twentieth century, when the Spanish flu killed an estimated 50 million people worldwide–675,000 in the United States alone–over the course of a year starting in 1918. Recently, a new version of swine flu known as the H1N1 virus spread rapidly across the United States before affecting upwards of 89 million people worldwide from April 2009-April 2010, killing upwards of 18,000 worldwide.
Unfortunately, scientists have identified a new strain of avian flu virus, H5N1, that if mutated to transmit in human-to-human form, could kill upwards of 300 million people worldwide in a period of 9-15 months. Currently, humans have no immunity to H5N1, but the virus is yet to spread to affect humans. However, as history suggests, the world population is in for a new major pandemic in the near future, especially as the population grows and global mass transportation increases.
Transmission and Avoidance
As the recent spread of H1N1 proved, if scientists and doctors fail to pinpoint the outbreak location of a new virus and contain the initial humans affected at the source, there is no way to prevent its worldwide spread. With planes, trains, and automobiles, the bug will reach major cities in a matter of days without being noticed. In a matter of weeks, a major virus like H5N1 could spread worldwide before doctors had a chance to address the issue.
Almost all transmissible diseases and viruses to date have designated incubation period where the person becomes infected without yet showing symptoms. In these early stages, the infected person can become contagious to others without yet knowing they have the virus. The primary means of transmission for flu viruses is pneumonic, meaning the virus passes in the air when a person coughs or sneezes and the infected saliva droplets are inhaled by a passerby. The other means is direct contact, when a person touches their infected hand to their nose, eyes, or mouth.
It may sound grim, but your realistic odds of surviving a supervirus like H5N1 are about 50-50. Should such an outbreak occur, hospitals and clinics would quickly become filled to capacity. Malls, movie theatres, schools, and subways will become deserted as people attempt to avoid contact with infected individuals at all costs. After all, the only to protect yourself and your family is quarantine yourselves, avoiding contact with the public as much as possible. In such an extreme case, you’ll likely find advantages in administering your own medical care at home, as hospitals will be filled with infected individuals carrying the contagion.
As unlikely as it may sound, one must take into consideration the possibility of civil unrest and the breakdown of society in the aftermath of a supervirus breakout. Martial law is a real possibility, as is the shutdown of major utilities like water and electricity. Ultimately, there is no way of telling what the outbreak of something like H5N1 will look like until it actually happens, which seems inevitable. For that reason, there’s nothing crazy about preparing for the worst. The principles for surviving a major pandemic are more or less the same as surviving other major disasters like tsunamis and hurricanes.
Where you live–or stay in the midst of a pandemic–will play a factor in determining your chances of getting infected. Those living in dense, urban areas are much more likely to come into contact with a virus than those living in rural areas. Though rudimentary, you should take some basic precautions upon hearing of an outbreak, including but not limited to: covering your face with a surgical mask when in public, wash your hands with disinfecting soap and water or hand sanitizer after contact with surfaces and objects used by others, and avoid touching your face.
For starters, if you have access to a remote or rural property or shelter, consider relocating to it as soon as word of a viral outbreak becomes known. You aim is to avoid contact with others at all costs, but you must be prepared to defend your property and family from outsiders who may become desperate for your supplies and shelter. In an extreme situation, you may be forced to evacuate from your home to avoid contact with an outbreak. Such circumstances beg the importance of having a backup location, preferably somewhere remote and off-grid, where you can take your family to have the best chances of riding out the storm.
Pandemic Survival Essentials
Though other disasters like earthquakes and tornadoes are capable of affecting tens of thousands of people in a short period of time, these scenarios are mostly centralized to a certain area and have relatively low mortality rates. Pandemics on the other hand are capable of dragging on for months, if not years, and affecting the worldwide population. For that reason, the essential supplies you’d want to stockpile for pandemic survival differ slightly from other emergency preparedness kits. Pandemic survival kits should include such items as:
- Food and water – Stockpile enough food and water to last 2 weeks, if not more, and have means to procure more on your own in the event your supplies run dry.
- Medication – Store at least two weeks worth of basic medical supplies along with pain and fever medications like Tylenol/Advil and antiviral agents like Tamilflu, which unfortunately is yet to prove effective against H5N1–Relenza is likely to be more effective.
- Means to boil water/cook food
- 5 gallons of liquid bleach (per person) for sanitation purposes
- 5 boxes of latex gloves
- Lysol disinfectant
- Clear, plastic sheeting for setting up a contamination room
- 5 rolls of duct tape
- HEPA air filters for whole house ventilation
- 50 rolls of toilet paper (per person)
- 25 rolls of paper towels (per person)
- 5 boxes of heavy-duty black trash bags
- 5 boxes of kitchen trash bags
- 25-pounds of sawdust/kitty litter (per person) for personal cleanup
- Laundry system, detergent, and clothesline
- Hot tea and honey
- Electrolyte-filled re-hydration mixes like Gatorade
- Salt, for gargling
How to Protect Yourself
Avoid social contact – This is the ultimate key to increasing your chances of surviving a pandemic. The more isolated you remain in the outbreak of a major virus, the less likely you are to come into contact with an infected person and contract the contagion yourself. If you have to go out in the early stages of an outbreak, protect yourself by any means by wearing a mask, keeping your distance from others, washing and disinfecting your hands after handling goods and cash, and cleaning and disinfecting your clothing and body upon returning home.
Practice hood hygiene and cleanliness – With contagious viruses that transmit via human contact, cleanliness is key to prevention. Use antibacterial hand soap and alcohol-based hand sanitizers to kill the majority of pandemic pathogens that may come into contact with your hands before touching your face or food.
Stay aware of your condition and that of your family – If you or someone in your family begins to feel sick in the outbreak of a virus, the issue should be immediately addressed. Hospitals should be avoided at all costs, but you should contact any medical professional contacts you may have to seek consultation.
Isolate your home and establish a quarantine room – Use plastic sheeting and duct tape to cover all windows, doors, and vents around your home immediately upon hearing of an outbreak. Use the same supplies to set up a quarantine room to house any family member that may show signs of infection until the incubation period has passed.
Dispose of any contaminated or waste materials – Things such as gloves, masks, tissue, bandages, toilet paper and any other potentially hazardous materials should be carefully handled and disposed of immediately.
How to Treat an Infected Individual
Should you or anyone in your home come down with an illness, immediately put them in an isolated quarantine room. Pay attention to the news for information regarding the virus’ incubation time before symptoms begin progressing. If you must come into contact with the person for treatment, cover yourself with bio-hazard gear if available or take measures to cover your eyes, nose, mouth, and hands while in the quarantine room.
Medical treatment should be sought as soon as symptoms begin, but remember that hospitals are likely to be overcrowded and will be a surefire way to contract the virus if you aren’t already infected. If you have a family member that is a doctor or nurse, use their advice or consultation for the best course of action for treatment. Stay informed to the news, as it will be your best outlet for information on a potential vaccine or any suggested treatment options.
During these times, maintain a routine of good hygiene and cleanliness. Cover your mouth when you sneeze or cough; wash your hands or use hand sanitizer frequently; avoid sharing personal items and food products; disinfect and maintain the cleanliness of household surfaces; and avoid contact with others. The flu patients themselves should stay clean, warm, and dry, maintain a constant level of comfort, and drink plenty of fluids to stay hydrated.
Even today, with a world population of over 6.6 billion people and the looming threat of both naturally occurring and terrorist bio hazards, the odds of you dying from a worldwide pandemic remain relatively small. There are chances that a virus like H5N1 could bring about a mortality rate of 50% or more if it were to infect humans today, but until that becomes a possibility you remain more likely to die in a car accident or from heart disease. Still, pandemics are very real threats that have affected civilization since the origins of recorded history. Like natural disasters that people are constantly finding new and improved ways to prepare for, pandemics are worth our consideration when it comes to prior planning and preparation.