Pandemic influenzas are situations where common viruses that the body is used to defending against mutate or combine with other viruses, resulting in a strain that the body is unable to fight readily. This results in an epidemic – where afflicted people fall severely ill and spread it to others while their bodies are attempting to overcome the infection. With today’s ease of global travel as well as concentrated population centers, the spread of new viruses has grown increasingly rapid.
Flu viruses evolve naturally over time, and this is why newer annual flu shots are recommended. Pandemics arise when the evolution of the virus changes drastically, resulting in near zero immunity. In such situations, healthy adults can be severely affected in addition to children and the elderly.
Steps to limit the spread in such situations would include staying home from school or work, as well as public restrictions on travel or public gatherings.
One of the simplest ways to prepare would include being healthy normally to have a strong immune system. Measures for this would include regular exercise, and adequate sleep as well as an annual flu shot. Proper practice of respiratory hygiene would also limit viral spread – practicing sneezing and/or coughing into one’s sleeve would greatly limit the viral spread, as well as disposal of the tissue and frequent proper hand washing technique using soap or alcohol cleaner.
A good measure of preparation would include training and ensuring those at home and work are able to clean their hands properly, and practice proper sneezing etiquette. Flu policies at work and schools should be enforced to ensure that ill people remain home until completely recovered.
A home emergency kit with non-perishable foods, clean water, and personal toiletries would be extremely useful in the event restrictions were placed on leaving the home. A supply of N95-grade respiratory facial masks would also be useful to reduce one’s transmission of viral particles to others as well as prevent inhalation of viral particles from the surrounding air.
Anthony Chiam is a Pharmacist in Vancouver, Canada and regular contributor to TopDoc.