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Pandemic Planning: Home and Family Preparedness

A pandemic occurs when a disease becomes widespread over a country or globally. This fact sheet provides information on how families can prepare and protect themselves in a flu pandemic.


Background

A severe pandemic (defined as a worldwide epidemic) in a vulnerable population, such as the 1918 flu pandemic, represents a worst-case scenario for pandemic planning and preparedness. Communities, individuals, employers, schools, and other organizations are being asked to plan for the use of interventions that will help limit the spread of disease. Pandemic concerns escalated due to spread of avian influenza (H5N1) virus, which has the potential to threaten human health, among animals in Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and Europe. In 2009 a pandemic occurred from a new influenza virus called H1N1 (referred to as “swine flu” early on). This virus is spreading from person to person worldwide. Health experts are predicting that we will see a continuation of the spread of the H1N1 influenza virus.

General Precautions

Observe general precautions including hand washing, avoiding contact with possibly infected poultry, or consuming undercooked poultry or poultry products.

If one of your family or household members becomes ill, they should be isolated in a separate room. If several members are sick, they can be isolated in the same room. When caring for those who are ill, you will need some appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE), including the following:

  • Disposable vinyl, nitrile, or latex gloves or other reusable gloves that can be disinfected.
  • Protective clothing (long sleeved coveralls with a waterproof apron) or a disposable surgical gown.
  • Disposable shoe covers or those that can be disinfected.
  • Safety goggles or face shield.
  • Wear at least the minimum level of respiratory protection, which is a surgical mask or preferably an N95 respirator.
  • These items must be removed in the proper sequence to avoid contaminating yourself.

Disinfection

Cups, glasses, dishes, all eating utensils, and thermometers must be disinfected after use by the ill person. The eating utensils can be disinfected either by use of a dishwasher or dishwater with 1.5 tsp. of household bleach to one gallon (3.8 liters) of water. Remember that handling these items while they are still contaminated will lead to possible infection. Therefore, wear gloves while handling potentially contaminated items.

Surfaces in the room of the infected persons should be cleaned with a solution of bleach water as noted above or with Lysol® or Clorox® spray, wipes, or liquid. Pay particular attention to faucets, doorknobs, telephones, the refrigerator, the oven, and toilet flush handles. This should be done whenever there is contact by an infected person or 2-3 times a day. Linens and clothing need to be washed in warm water with detergent and preferably dried in a dryer. Remember, if you are not careful in your personal protective wear and hygiene measures, you may carry infected material on your skin or clothing, which may contaminate others or yourself. Designate a specific garbage bag for infected, disposable materials.

Isolation

If you develop flu-like symptoms, stay home and isolated from your household except to seek medical care. Remain at home until at least 24 hours after you are free of fever (100° F [37.8° C] or greater) or signs of a fever without the use of fever-reducing medications. Seek medical care if you have signs of pneumonia or severe lung infection (difficulty breathing, wheezing, or a persistent fever over 102° F or 38.9° C).

If there are other cases of influenza in your neighborhood, it would be safest to keep your children in your yard or home away from others who may be infected. Plan in advance what will need to be done or who you can call upon if you are either alone, ill and incapacitated, or if the adults in the household become ill and incapacitated. 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.

Schools and daycare facilities will likely close. Plan your child care in advance and how you might function by working at home, for example, or how college-age family members can assist in child care during the time their colleges and universities are closed. Having multiple younger children from several households in one home for daycare is less than optimal due to the high risk of spreading the disease.

Limit your exposure to public places; this may include a grocery trip only once a week rather than every few days. In addition to the recommended food and water storage items, keep a supply of your prescription medications, nonprescription drugs, and other health supplies on hand, including pain relievers, stomach remedies, cough and cold medicines, fluids with electrolytes, vitamins, rubbing alcohol, thermometers, garbage bags, and cleaning supplies. Keep your car filled with gas and have cash on hand in case banks are closed or services are limited. Use the over-the-counter medications as directed on the container.

Maintain social distancing (see the Pandemic Planning—Social Distancing fact sheet for more details) and stay at least six feet away from others at all times, particularly in public. Avoid shaking hands and other forms of contact. Use proper cough and sneeze etiquette even if you are not ill (see the Pandemic Planning—Personal Hygiene fact sheet for more details). Be sure to teach your children the proper hand washing and cough and sneeze behaviors as well. If you are ill, you need to be isolated from those who are healthy, even in your own household.

A pandemic occurs when a disease becomes widespread over a country or globally. This fact sheet provides information on how families can prepare and protect themselves in a flu pandemic.


Background

A severe pandemic (defined as a worldwide epidemic) in a vulnerable population, such as the 1918 flu pandemic, represents a worst-case scenario for pandemic planning and preparedness. Communities, individuals, employers, schools, and other organizations are being asked to plan for the use of interventions that will help limit the spread of disease. Pandemic concerns escalated due to spread of avian influenza (H5N1) virus, which has the potential to threaten human health, among animals in Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and Europe. In 2009 a pandemic occurred from a new influenza virus called H1N1 (referred to as “swine flu” early on). This virus is spreading from person to person worldwide. Health experts are predicting that we will see a continuation of the spread of the H1N1 influenza virus.

What is the concept of social distancing?

Social distancing (SD), self-shielding, voluntary isolation, and reverse quarantine are all methods that attempt to limit close physical proximity between infected and healthy individuals. They provide individuals with some measure of personal control over their own exposure to a potential pandemic. SD can be instituted voluntarily by individuals or through actions taken by local, state, or government officials, including the closure of schools, discontinuance of public transportation, and restrictions on large gatherings or public venues. During the 1918 pandemic, leaders of the Church were supportive of SD efforts to curtail public meetings and other social functions sponsored by the Church. Some examples of their efforts were:

  • Postponing the April 1919 sessions of general conference until June.
  • Holding a non-public funeral for President Joseph F. Smith.
  • Suspending local Church meetings in areas affected by the pandemic.
  • Holding special fasts to help ease the pandemic.
  • Publishing articles in Saturday editions of the Deseret Evening News to help fill the spiritual void left when Church services were suspended.

Why social distancing?

Influenza is thought to be primarily spread through large respiratory droplets (droplet transmission) that directly contact the nose, mouth, or eyes. These droplets are produced when infected people cough, sneeze, or talk, sending the infectious droplets and very small sprays (aerosols) into the air and into contact with other people. Large droplets can only travel a limited distance; therefore, people should limit close contact (within six feet) with others when possible. To a lesser degree, human influenza is spread by touching objects contaminated with influenza viruses and then transferring the infected material from the hands to the nose, mouth, or eyes.

What are the benefits of social distancing?

Adults may decrease their risk of infection by practicing SD and minimizing their nonessential social contacts and exposure to highly populated environments. Low-cost and sustainable SD practices can be adopted by individuals within their community (for example, going to the grocery store once a week rather than every other day and avoiding large public gatherings) and at their workplace (for example, spacing people farther apart in the workplace, telecommuting when feasible, and substituting teleconferences for meetings) for the duration of a community outbreak. Many factors make children especially important in the transmission of influenza. Compared with adults, children usually shed more influenza virus and for a longer period. They also are less skilled in handling their secretions and are in close proximity with many other children for most of the day at school. Schools, in particular, clearly serve as a means to transmit seasonal community influenza epidemics. Infected children and parents are also thought to play a major role in introducing and transmitting the influenza virus within their households.

Therefore, given the disproportionate contribution of children in spreading disease and viruses, targeting their social networks both within and outside of schools would be expected to help disrupt influenza spread. Given that children and teens are together at school for a significant portion of the day, dismissal of students from school could effectively disrupt a significant portion of influenza transmission within these age groups.

Mathematical modeling also suggests a reduction of overall disease, especially when schools are closed early in the outbreak. Parents may determine to keep their children at home, therefore providing a form of voluntary SD. During this period, parents would be encouraged to consider child care arrangements that do not result in large gatherings of children outside the school setting.

What are the basics of social distancing?

Social distancing may be a viable alternative for the general public to avoid the pandemic influenza infection until a vaccine becomes available. Below, in order of potential effectiveness, are various aspects of SD suggestions:

  1. Limit exposure to other people within six feet.
  2. Minimize exposure to enclosed spaces containing crowds, such as movie theaters, grocery stores, gas stations, schools, malls, and so on.
  3. Use personal protective equipment, such as N95 masks, if you must get within six feet of anyone outside your immediate family (or other individuals where you have intimate knowledge of their health conditions) or if you must go into an enclosed space containing crowds. It should be noted that there is limited information on the use of surgical masks for the control of a pandemic in settings where there is no identified source of infection.
  4. Wash hands after touching any item that may have been touched by others, or use disposable gloves. Studies have shown that the influenza virus can survive on environmental surfaces and can infect a person for 2 to 8 hours after being deposited on the surface.

Potential Impacts of Social Distancing

Closure of office buildings, stores, schools, and public transportation systems may be feasible community containment measures during a pandemic and are considered forms of forced SD. All of these have significant impact on the community and workforce. Careful consideration should be focused on their potential effectiveness and how to maintain critical supplies and infrastructure while limiting community interaction. For example, when public transportation is cancelled, other modes of transportation must be provided for emergency medical services and medical evaluation. The mandatory closure of public venues will have a direct and significant impact on worship services, as well as proselytizing efforts by missionaries.