Preparing for the Next Epidemic

I’m not a big believer in “the virus apocalypse”. You’ve seen this scenario played out in various movies, most recently “Contagion.” The plots are usually very similar. A new virulent disease spreads rapidly, bringing the human race to the brink of extinction. The heroes and heroines save the day, but society is forever changed. This scenario is most likely to occur only in the movies.

On the other hand, epidemics of airborne diseases do occur, to one extent or another. It is likely that the yearly influenza virus that strikes each winter will be worse in some years. It is possible that the H1N1 (swine flu) virus, or something similar, will occur in some new virulent form, and cause more deaths. So a well-stocked Reasonable Emergency Preparedness Kit should include a few particular items to address this less severe, but more likely scenario.

Surgical Masks

Inexpensive, good quality “surgical grade masks” are available at drug stores and department stores throughout the U.S. The dual purpose of these masks is to protect the wearer and those around him. They are particularly good at preventing the bacteria in the wearer’s breath from infecting others. They also protect the wearer from blood or from droplets in another person’s cough. However, they are NOT designed to protect the wearer from airborne bacteria and viruses. Surgical staff wear these masks to protect the patient from the breath of doctors and nurses, not the other way around.

Surgical masks are commonly worn by ordinary persons in some Asian countries. They are worn by the person who is ill with a cold or the flu, as a courtesy to other persons. It is socially-acceptable in these nations to wear such a mask to work or while shopping. By comparison, in many Western nations, the sight of someone wearing a surgical mask in public is uncommon, and might draw stares or unkind comments. Wearing a surgical mask to work might not be within the acceptable dress-code set by your employer; you might end up looking for a new job. Perhaps this will change if the U.S. or Europe ever experiences a substantial epidemic of an airborne contagious disease.

N95 Masks

If you wish to protect yourself against airborne diseases, the type of mask to buy is called “N95.” This type of mask is not called a surgical mask, but a “particulate respirator.” The N95 is designed specifically to protect the wearer against airborne diseases from other persons. So if there is a disease epidemic, and you wish to decrease your risk of airborne infection, this is the type of mask to use, not the surgical type.

I have both the surgical and the N95 type masks in my Reasonable Emergency Preparedness Kit. Both are made by Flents, although I don’t know which company makes the best masks. The Flents “Ultra-high Filtration Efficiency Maxi-Mask Ultra95″ seems to be named using a little marketing hyperbole. However, the mask is NIOSH approved to meet CDC and WHO standards for the protection of health care workers from airborne diseases.

Caveats: Even the N95 mask does not guarantee that you will not contract an airborne disease. And it does nothing to protect you against gasses, asbestos, or other airborne dangers.


In case of disease epidemic, you might want to stock up on NSAIDs. Non-Steriodal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs include common over-the-counter pain killers: aspirin (Bayer, Bufferin), ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), naproxen (Aleve), as well as various similar prescription pain relievers.

“NSAIDs reduce inflammation and relieve fever and pain by blocking enzymes and proteins made by the body.”
“Do not give aspirin to anyone younger than 20 unless your doctor tells you to. It has been linked to Reye syndrome, a rare but serious illness.”
Read more at: WebMD

NSAIDs reduce fever, relieve pain, and reduce inflammation, which is helpful in treating a variety of illness and injuries. By comparison, acetaminophen (Tylenol) reduces fever and relieves pain, but does not reduce inflammation.

I’m not offering you medical advice here. Use whatever medications are prescribed or recommended by your doctor. Use those OTC meds that you know from your own experience will be safe and effective. Do some research of your own, and make responsible decisions based on your own good judgment and the medical advice of health care professionals.

Wash Your Hands

Washing your hands to avoid catching or spreading an easily transmissible disease is not the same as washing your hands to remove dirt and grime. If you think you know how to wash your hands, read WebMD on hand-washing, then think again. Regular proper hand-washing is one of the best ways to reduce the likelihood of disease transmission in both directions, from you and to you. It is particularly important if you are out in public during a time when an epidemic is prevalent, or if you are caring for an ill person at home, or if you yourself are ill.

When hand-washing is not possible, use a gel hand sanitizer, containing 60% – 90% ethyl alcohol or isopropanol alcohol. But always consider hand-washing to be superior.

Medical Books

Home medical books are useful for disease emergency preparedness. It is possible for an epidemic of disease to coincide with some other disaster, one that might cause a power outage. If you have no access to the internet, and you are temporarily unable to call or go to the doctor’s office, one or two home medical books may prove to be well-worth the price. I have the first book in the following list, and I recommend it (the Merck Manual). The rest of the books listed are from reputable medical institutions:

Merck Manual of Medical Information: Home Edition
American Medical Association Family Medical Guide
Harvard Medical School Family Health Guide
Johns Hopkins Complete Home Guide to Symptoms & Remedies
Mayo Clinic Family Health Book

Be careful about medical advice found on the internet. There are many unreliable websites offering easy explanations and quick cures for whatever is the most prevalent ailment at one time or another. Prep-Blog strives to present useful information as food for thought, but not medical advice. Rely on a health care professionals and on reputable medical sources. In cases of disease epidemic, visit the CDC website for up-to-date and specific medical information.

Other Prudent Measures

I will close with a few additional steps that you might take, without expending too much money or time or effort.

Keep a supply of OTC medications for colds and flu. Make sure you have the resources to remain home for a week or two, if necessary, without venturing out for food or other supplies. Consider possibly keeping kids home from school for a brief period of time. Keep informed as to your school’s rules for absence from school and their contingency plans for epidemics.

Gatoraide and similar sports drinks are good for hydration when you or a family member is ill and a doctor recommends plenty of fluids. Pedialyte is specifically designed for the hydration of infants and young children who are ill. “Use Pedialyte oral electrolyte solution under medical supervision for the dietary management of dehydration due to diarrhea and vomiting.” Pedialyte website.

This article is by no means exhaustive on steps to prepare for an epidemic of disease. Keep safe.

– Thoreau

One Response to Preparing for the Next Epidemic

  1. A great article by Thoreau and it left me thinking a bit more about a flu epidemic situation. Personally, I think (hope) I’m prepared to deal with a time, which is sure to come eventually, where the flu is unusually virulent and has a high mortality rate. My plan is simply to stay at home and wait it out. I’ll keep the kids home from school, I’ll dip into my stored food, and I’ll avoid contact with anyone until it passes. Simple. If you’re PREPared.
    On the other hand, imagine needing to head out to the local market which has already been picked clean, to wait for the next delivery of food. Now you’re in a situation not so different from what we see in the movies. Crowds of people, some of whom are infected, pushing, shoving, fighting… Not someplace I’d want to be. So stock away enough food for a couple of months, it’s not difficult or expensive, and keep enough cold and flu medicines on hand in case you yourself get ill. Again, just a little forethought could turn a disaster into a minor annoyance.