How to survive a pandemic

This module will discuss: How to Survive a Pandemic.


  • What it is a pandemic.
  • How to survive a pandemic.
  • Important definitions and concepts.
  • How are pathogens  transferred.
  • Common Infectious Diseases in the World.
  • Common Infectious Diseases associated with a Disaster.
  • How to determine your Risk level of it.
First of all – we need to make a legal disclaimer. Being that this module refers to potential medical issues, we want to advise you that we are not doctors and if you have any medical conditions, issues, or questions – you should consult with your doctor or other medical professionals about your concerns. This module is ONLY offering general descriptions and information that relate to the discussion of potential pandemics.

With that said, let’s start this module out with some definitions that will help explain some common used terms and the mechanics behind Pandemics.

Definitions and Concepts


Outbreak:  An Outbreak is the occurrence of more cases of a disease than normally expected within a certain area or within a certain group of people over a given period of time.

Epidemic:  An Epidemic is an infectious disease that spreads rapidly in a specific area or region (a community, city, state or country) in a particular time period.

Pandemic:  A pandemic is basically an epidemic – but on a global scale.

Pathogen:  A bacterium, virus, or other microorganism that can cause disease.  The Bad Guys behind the disease.

Infected:  Being infected is when you have a pathogen inside your body – but it is not going to go any further than you.  It is staying within you.  You’re keeping it.  It’s your problem.

Infectious:  Infectious is that you have the pathogen in your body and you are giving the pathogen a way to travel (to be transmitted) to another person.  The pathogen can move from you to another person.  You’re sharing it with someone (or many).  It’s many people’s problems.

NOTE:  You can be infected – but not infectious for many yearsThen under certain conditions, you can become infectious.  This is called the “Latent Period”.  Tuberculosis is an example.  TB can be in your body for a very long period of time before it becomes active and turns into an infectious state.


Pathogens can be TRANSMITTED to humans in the following manners:


Person-to-Person Transmission


By Air.  Droplet Infection:  Coughing and sneezing cause’s very small droplets to fly out of a person’s nose and mouth that contain the pathogens.    If you breathe those droplets in –  you now you have the pathogen in you.  Example of this method of transmission would be: Influenza (The Flu), Measles and Mumps.

Pandemic-shaking-hands--OptimizedBy Direct Contact:
Direct contact of an infected person’s skin.  Someone sneezes or coughs into their hand and you shake hands with them.  The pathogen is transmitted to your hand.  The next time you touch your nose or mouth area – the pathogen can enter your body.  The hand acts as a transmitter for the pathogen.  Some pathogens can be transmitted through the surface of the skin.  Examples of this type of transmission would be cold sores or sexually transmitted diseases like Genital Herpes.

Contact with Body Fluids:  Pathogens can enter the body from having contact with an infected person’s body fluids.   Such as kissing and coming into contact with the other person’s saliva, sexual contact, and through breaks in the skin.  Example of this type of transmission would be HIV/Aids and Ebola.

Animal-to-Person Transmission:  Animals can carry pathogens on them or in them and transfer the pathogen into a person through the person’s skin or mouth.  Examples would be mosquitos transmitting Malaria through their sting or a rabid raccoon transmitting Rabies that live in their saliva through a bite.  I think Zombies would also fall into this category.

Contaminated Food or Water:  If you eat some food, or drink some water that has the pathogen in it, the pathogen enters your body through your mouth and into your digestive system.  A Food example would be Salmonella.  A Water example would be Cholera.

Non-Living Objects Transmission.  Anything from a towel, a toy, a door knob, even a floor can carry a pathogen.  An example of this type of transmission would be Athletes Foot.  You step on the changing room floor of a gym and if a person who had Athletes Foot stepped in the same place – you could be transmitted the Athletes Foot pathogen.    Tetanus is another example.  The Tetanus pathogen is everywhere in our environment.  You scratch or puncture yourself with a nail that has Tetanus on it – the pathogen can enter the cut or puncture wound in to your body.


The important thing to understand here is: The DISEASE is NOT the thing spreading – The ORGANISM that is causing the Disease is spreading. So what you want to do is make it as difficult as possible for that infectious organism to infect you – to be transmitted to you – or for you to transmit it to someone else. You want to have the BEST Defense against the method that the potential pathogen will use to enter your body.


This is important for 3 reasons:

  1. So that you don’t get infected.  You don’t get sick.
  2. You don’t infect someone else.
  3. The more people who can interrupt the transmission, the faster the pandemic can be brought under control.

There are several precautions that people can take in order to reduce the risk of transmission of an infectious pathogen. 


The first is as simple as listening to the news. 

  • Are there any current news reports regarding infectious diseases?
  • If there are, what type of infectious disease is being reported?
  • What is the transmission method for the reported infectious disease?
  • Where is the location of the infectious disease being reported?
    • Is it close to your location?
    • Are you going to be traveling to the area?
    • Is any of your family or friends in the area?
    • What preventative guidelines are being recommended?

Keep in good physical shape.  There are two key components for an individual’s capacity to ward off an infection: genetics and being in good physical shape.  Not much you can do about your genetics, other than be aware of any family history that indicates areas of concern and address those with your doctor.  However, it is a proven fact that people who are in good physical condition have a much better chance of fighting off an infection than those who are not.  Exercise, diet, sleep and hydration all play critical roles in your overall health and how you feel.  This includes annual visits to your doctor for physicals and to make sure that you, and your family members, are all up to date with all vaccinations and necessary shots.   This is especially important if you will be traveling into an area that an infectious disease has been reported or if you will be having any contact with people coming back from an infected area.

Practice good hygiene.  Your mother was right on this one – Wash Your Hands!  Much of this is just common sense daily practices. There are many places on the body that pathogens can enter; including your skin and all of the openings in the body.   If you want to keep a good defense against the transmission of a pathogen – a clean body is one of the best ways to do it.

  • This involves washing as often as possible – if possible have a shower or bath at least once a day. During a disaster situation – this may not be practical.  If that is the case – use a towel or sponge and try to do the best you can.
  • Brush your teeth at least after breakfast and before going to bed. Better if you can brush after every meal.  Don’t forget to floss.  Flossing helps get rid of potentially bad pathogens that may be located between your teeth and around the gum line.  Your mouth is a major opening that pathogens can use to enter your body.  The mouth has many natural defense systems – but for these defenses to work at their peak, it must be kept clean and in good working order.
  • Pandemic-Page-Washing-Hands-OptimizedWash your hands. Or use antibacterial wipes.
    • Any time after going to the toilet.
    • Before preparing or eating food.After touching any animal.
    • After touching or being touched by any stranger.
    • Before going to bed.
  • Change your clothes when they get dirty. Clothes can act as a magnet to pathogens.  Wash dirty clothes before putting them back on.  In a pinch – hang your clothes out in the sun – the sun’s ray will kill some of the pathogens.
  • Cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze.
  • Disinfect surfaces: Surfaces around the house may get contaminated when someone sneezes, coughs, or touches the surface.  Use antibacterial wipes to clean counter tops, light switches, door knobs, faucet handles, toilet handles, table tops, etc., to control any transfer of a potential pathogen.
  • Avoid touching your eyes and face. If you touched something that had a pathogen on it and then you touch your face or eyes – the pathogen can be transferred almost instantly.  So, keep your hands away from your face.

Pandemics-Page-Face-Mask-OptimizedAvoid Crowds – if you can.  This one will be a little difficult in a city.  But one of the primary ways a pathogen can be transferred is by being in close proximity to people who are infectious.  If you are aware of an infectious disease being active in your area and you know it’s of an Airborne Transmission class – consider wearing a suitable face mask.  Make sure the face mask has a certification of N-95 of better.  If your job involves a lot of contact with people, like a cashier handling money, consider using rubber gloves.

You may need to Shelter-In-Place.  Depending upon the type and spread of the infectious disease, you may be instructed (or you may elect) to Shelter-In-Place to avoid possible contamination by the pathogen.  If that is the case – you should be prepared for at least a 2-week period of time.  This includes: Food, Water, Personal Hygiene Supplies, etc., which will provide for both you and your family members.  This will be discussed in more detail when you start putting together your Disaster Plan.


The Most Common Infectious Diseases.


There are many infectious diseases that have a major impact on the people of the world.  However, many of them are restricted to specific geographic regionsdue to the manner in which they are transmitted.  Unless you plan on traveling to those parts of the world – your chances of being infected are extremely low. Here is a list of the diseases that infect the most number of people in the world.

Dengue, (aka: Dengue Fever) affects approximately 50 million people per year.  It is a leading cause of serious illness and death among children in some Asian, African and Latin American countries. It is transmitted by a mosquito that is found in tropical and sub-tropical regions around the world.

Schistosomiasis:  affects more than 200 million people per year and is ranked as the 2nd most devastating parasitic disease in the world.  This disease is transmitted by a parasitic worm that lives in snails.  You can become infected if your skin comes in contact with contaminated water that has the worm and its eggs.  This is a very common disease found in Africa, Asia and South America.

Malaria: affects more than 500 million people per year, causing 1-3 million deaths per year.  This is the # 1 Infectious Disease in the World.  It is very common in tropical and subtropical climates and found in 90 countries through the world.  Ninety percent of the cases happen in Africa.  This disease is transmitted by a mosquito.

There are also many infectious diseases that are not hindered by geography or climates and can happen anywhere in the world.

Pandemic-Page-Turbuculouses-OptimizedTuberculosis:  Responsible for nearly 2 million deaths per year.  WHO (World Health Organization) estimates that nearly 1 billion people will be infected between 2000 and 2020. See distribution map to the left.   Tuberculosis is a bacteria that lives in the lungs and is transmitted by an infectious person coughing or sneezing into the air and releasing droplets into the air which then can be inhaled by people in the area.  Tuberculosis is a disease that has a long “Latent Period” and can be in a person for a very long time before becoming active.  It is estimated that 1 in 10 infected people will actually become infectious.

Pandemic-page--Aids-map-fro--OptimizedHIV/Aids:  It is estimated that there are 35.3 million people in the world who have HIV.  See distribution of cases worldwide to the right.   HIV isn’t really what causes death.  But the HIV virus will have a negative impact on your immune system.  Ultimately, your body’s natural ability to fight infections and disease will be compromised.  HIV is transmitted primarily via unprotected sexual intercourse, contaminated blood transfusions, needles and from mother to child during pregnancy.

Influenza (The Flu):  The Flu is caused by a virus and can range in severity from moderate to severe. It is estimated that 3 to 5 million people per year will come down with the severe form of the Flu and that there will be between 250,000 to 500,000 deaths per year.  The Flu is transmitted by an infectious person coughing or sneezing into the air and releasing droplets into the air which then can be inhaled by people in the area.  It can also be spread by touching surfaces that have been contaminated and then touching your mouth or eyes.  The best defense against the Flu is getting a yearly vaccination.  The Flu is most dangerous to the young, the elderly and those who may have other health issues.  The Flu is a seasonal risk and is associated with the seasons of the year.



Infectious Disease Associated with a Disaster.


The movies might show typhoid or cholera running rampant though society during and after a disaster event.  It might make for good story lines.  But in reality, if those types of diseases were not there before the disaster – they are not going to be there during or after the disaster.  A disaster does not bring disease pathogens into an area.  The pathogens will need to be brought into the disaster area from elsewhere.  The diseases that will be impacting the area will be diseases that were already there before the disaster.

There are many diseases that can happen during a disaster.  However, the majority will be linked to the compromises associated with the water supply system, improper disposal of human waste and personal hygiene issues.

During a disaster, there is a good chance that the local sewage systems will either stop working, be overwhelmed or will back up.  This can negatively impact and contaminate the local water system.  If the people in the area do not practice safe disposal of human waste products, their actions could also contaminate local sources of drinking water.  Run off from streets, parking lots, farms, yards, etc. all will be flowing into the local streams, rivers, or lakes.  You have no idea what is in this run off water.  The majority of the infectious disease that can occur during or after a disaster can be traced to one of these factors.

If the conditions are right; Cryptosporidiosis (aka Crypto), E.coli., Giardiasis, Rotavirus, Norovirus and others can start spreading, affecting water and food supplies, and coat many surfaces that we come in contact with on a daily basis.  Once they get into their human hosts, the human activities and movement will increase the reach and places where these pathogens can go.

The common symptoms associated with these pathogens are digestive and respiratory related; severe diarrhea, dehydration, stomach cramps, fevers and more.

You will need to protect yourself from these pathogens.  The best methods are:

  • Practice Good Hygiene as detailed above.
  • Treat all water before drinking or washing with it.
  • Cook food thoroughly.
  • Have a Human Waste Disposal Plan as part of your Disaster Program.
  • Keep any cuts, scrapes, or puncture wounds clean, and covered.
  • Wear an approved face mask and rubber gloves when the situation calls for it.

Pandemics: Risk Assessment:


Pandemics can happen anywhere and everywhere.  The risk factors that will have an impact on your is more associated with the type of area that you are in, the population density, and the health make up of your family.

So, pull out your Risk Assessment Table and let’s start determining your risk for a Pandemic.  Have a piece of paper ready so that you can write down the answers to the following questions.

Step #1:  Everybody start out with a 1.  So write down 1.

Step #2:  How would you classify the area that you live – or the area you want to assess?

  • Rural / Country Setting: +0
  • Sub-burb Setting: +1
  • City / Urban Setting: +2

 Step #3:  Do you have any children under the age of 5 or any seniors over the age of 65 in your family group that you are preparing for?

  • YES: +1
  • NO: +0

Step #4:  Do you have any family members that you are preparing for that have any illness that can negatively impact their ability to fight off an infectious disease?  Examples would be: Heart or Lung Diseases, or any Immunological Diseases.

  • YES: +1
  • NO: +0

Step #5:  Do you or any family member that you are preparing for have a job or participate in any activities that involves being in close proximity of crowds?  Examples would be: Cashiers at a store, School employees, Students, or Workers in large buildings with many people.

  • YES: +1
  • NO: +0

Step #6:  Do you or any family member that you are preparing for work in a hospital, clinic, doctors office or where they will have a high likelihood of coming into contact with people who may be infected with an infectious disease?  Examples:  Doctors, Nurses, EMT, Police, Fire, etc.?

  • YES: +1
  • NO: +0

Step #7: Add up your numbers and enter the total number in the appropriate box on your Risk Assessment Table.  The maximum number you can have is 5.  Any number over that will not matter.





This is what you should be taking away from this module.


  1. Key definitions and concepts that help to explain the mechanics of a Pandemic.
  2. How to survive a pandemic.
  3. Various ways pathogens can be transferred and why is this important to know in order to protect yourself and family.
  4. Important Understanding: The DISEASE is NOT the thing spreading – The ORGANISM that is causing the Disease is spreading.  So what you want to do is make it as difficult as possible for that infectious organism to infect you – to be transmitted to you – or for you to transmit it to someone else.  You want to have the BEST Defense against the method that the potential pathogen will use to enter your body.
  5. What are some precautions that you can take to reduce the possibility of infection.
  6. Common types of infectious diseases.
  7. Infectious Diseases associated with a Disaster.
  8. Your Risk Assessment of a Pandemic/Epidemic for the location you are researching.

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