What To Do and Not Do When a Pandemic Starts- Part 1, by Scientist69

The Basics (Science is Awesome)

What is the basic difference between an epidemic and a pandemic? In an epidemic, an infectious disease spreads quickly between people; however, this will be relatively confined to a geographic area, country, or even a continent. The Ebola epidemic in West Africa is an example. On the other hand, a pandemic means that this infectious disease spreads quickly to other continents, basically causing disease globally, most likely resulting in high fatality rates.

Examples of infections that can potentially cause a pandemic are the bird flu (avian influenza), SARS or MERS like infections that are caused by viruses in the coronavirus family, and of course Ebola and similar so-called hemorrhagic viruses.

Viruses More Likely to Cause a Pandemic

Why are these viruses more likely to cause a pandemic?

All of these viruses are so-called RNA (not DNA) viruses. This means there are more mutations happening every time the virus replicates in a cell. More mutations lead to more changes in the viral genome, potentially making the virus more virulent– better at infecting humans, replicating more efficiently and therefore making people sicker. Another thing these viruses have in common is the fact that they are usually present in animals and might not necessarily cause disease in those carriers but adapt to humans at some point, causing severe disease. These viruses also tend to cause high mortality because they affect several organs causing them to shut down.

When a Pandemic Starts

When a pandemic starts, don’t panic right away. You might hear on the news about new cases of avian flu in China or other Asian countries. They will be the most likely source of a pandemic flu, due to the presence of unregulated live bird markets that can spread the disease quickly, and the close contact people have with these animals. The same is true for respiratory infections such as SARS or MERS, which usually have adapted to humans after going through several animal species, starting with bats but then transmitting to agricultural animals and finally to humans.

The adaptation phase can be slow, but when the time comes that a virus transmits between humans, these infections will be rapidly spreading. Human-to-human transmission is the most critical barrier. So far, avian flu has not caused a pandemic simply due to the fact that almost all infections happened through contact with the animals themselves. At the most, family members transmitted among themselves due to close and prolonged contact. However, when human transmission becomes easy, it will be bedlam.

Human Cases

Most likely you will hear something about some human cases first, followed by rapid growing numbers in the country of origin and around. From there it won’t be long to hear about the first cases in the U.S. or Europe, maybe just a few days. This part is difficult to predict, as some infections are contagious at very early to slightly later stages of infection, but typically when people start to sneeze they are contagious. So, if you are relatively sure that a pandemic is at hand, call in to work sick, take your kids out of school, ensure you got supplies to sit it out, and rather enjoy some vacation days.

(Disclaimer: I am a scientist working with viruses, and that is what I will do). Folllowing this procedure, the worst case scenario is that you get some vacation days and the kids do too. That is better than going to work because you think you are overreacting and catching something by a colleague who just returned from his vacation, sat in an airplane, and is starting to sneeze into your general direction when trying to show you some pictures of that great landmark he visited (with many other people) on his cell phone.

Virus Transmission

So how does a virus like the flu or SARS transmit?

Transmission of a respiratory virus happens by droplets, so this is sneezing and coughing but also when somebody sneezes into his/her hands and then touches the shopping cart, the door knob, the debit/credit card checkout, et cetera. In other words, transmission happens extremely easily. You got more germs on your cell phone than there are on a public toilet seat, true story. Ebola is harder to transmit, as it is through bodily fluids, so people most affected were in close contact with patients, such as medical personnel and relatives. But again, there is a potential for a critical mutation making transmission easier.

Do’s and Don’ts of Biosecurity Measures

So, you decided to stay home, and it turns out there really is an avian flu or other virus spreading rapidly. You realize that even though you planned ahead, there are a few items you still want to get in a last-ditch effort. If you really have to go to a public place, take Lysol wipes with you in the car. Put on that NIOSH 95 mask. Don some nitrile or latex gloves. If people look at you funny, cough a bit, so they think you are being very considerate trying not to spread something or alternatively tell them the end is near. You could also ignore them; do whatever works for you. Just don’t be too embarrassed and take it off.

It is supposed to keep 95% of infectious particles out, so if somebody coughs or sneezes directly at you, you got a fighting chance. If you want 100% protection, you need to be prepared to spend a lot of money on a biohazard suit, go through the pain of putting it on and walking into the store looking like an alien, and be prepared to possibly cause a panic and deal with a 911 call while there. When you grab what you need, be aware of your hands.

Touching Your Face

Most people don’t realize that they tend to touch their faces unconsciously many times during the day, and you do not want to touch a surface containing the virus and then get your hand in contact with eyes, nose, or mouth, which will give the virus access to your body. Put those Lysol wipes in your cart and use them throughout, particularly after checkout and again when you arrive at your car. Give the steering wheel and the gear shift a wipe down just to make sure. If you wore gloves, take them off before entering your car.

General Biosecurity Measures

General biosecurity measures include: stay home! If you have to leave your house, use personal protection equipment, including the following:

  • Gloves. Wear gloves if you go anywhere near potentially contaminated surfaces. Take them off when done! They might get contaminated and you will just distribute the virus evenly around. Gloves are able to protect you from virus touching your skin, but if that virus sits on the glove, you can still get sick if you are not careful. Picture that you are touching a surface with glowing green or red paint with those gloves and then continue to use them. Where is that paint going to end up? It will be on a lot of things that you touch afterwards.
  • Mask. Wear a NIOSH 95 mask if venturing among people. Surgical masks won’t do a lot really.
  • Hand Washing. Wash your hands frequently.
  • Wipes. Keep up with wiping down surfaces that you and others touch frequently, particularly doorknobs and appliances.
  • Keep Your Distance. Droplets can travel several feet, so try to stay a distance of six feet or more from somebody who is actively sneezing or coughing.

For respiratory viruses, these measures are the most effective ones.


If you do not have a commercial disinfectant, a dilution of bleach does the trick. Generally, a 10% dilution is very effective, especially if it sits for 10 minutes, but on metal surfaces such as those on appliances that can be a bit problematic after a while. I use the metric measurements on my pitcher, 50 ml of bleach with 450 ml of tap water added for a total volume of 500 ml. It is just more precise, but if you are allergic to metric measurements, 0.2 cups (so a little less than 1/4 cup) in a bit over 2 quarts is approximately the same.

You want to use gloves, nitrile or latex is fine, and a 10% bleach solution won’t destroy your skin right away, but it will be irritating to some people, especially if you keep using it. Rubbing alcohol and hydrogen peroxide work too. Influenza and coronaviruses (the ones that cause SARS- or MERS-like infections) are not as stable in the environment due to their structure. On the outside these viruses have what is called an envelope, made out of components of the cell wall from the cell they were replicating in, in other words a human cell. This envelope makes the virus actually more susceptible to disinfectants, UV light, and other environmental factors.

Evading Your Immune System

However, it also makes it better at evading your pesky immune system. Although not extremely stable in the environment, enveloped viruses, like the flu or SARS, can survive on some surfaces for up to 24 hours. This is why wiping down frequently is important, but of course you don’t have to do that if nobody goes in and out. The virus does not appear out of nowhere; you have to pick it up from somebody.

In summary, if you can avoid going out after a pandemic hits, stay at home. Don’t let neighbors or family in (especially the in-laws), and you will be fine, assuming you are self-sufficient in regards to food and water.

See Also:

SurvivalBlog Writing Contest

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  1. Scientist69,

    What are your thoughts on the effectiveness of a tyvex suite? They seem like a good low cost layer of protection.

    On a side note, when I’m sick or when a cashier looks sick, I always swipe a credit card myself. Using an iPhone chip for payment may be even better, but I just don’t trust it. If a major virus was a local issue, I might change my mind.


    1. Scientist69,

      Media and government will either hype or downplay the risk. Do you know a public source that posts the r-nought, and other critical information like contagious timelines, and how long it takes for the disease to become symptomatic? That would be very helpful in risk mitigation.

      Decontamination is critical but we will not have test kits to verify that it was successfully executed. So, knowing how long someone would need to be isolated post decom is as important as decontamination itself.


  2. Excellent topic which imo does not get enough attention from many. Highly recommend the novel by Steven Konkoly titled, “The Jakarta Pandemic” as a primer.

  3. Under “protection equipment” I would add protective eyewear. You’ve got a pair of clear shooting glasses. They protect you from a spent cartridge hitting you in the eye. The glasses could also protect you from an infectious airborne droplet going into your eye from a careless sneeze or cough. Just be sure to use the lysol wipe to clean them when you get home. Another suggestion is to designate a single entrance and exit to your house. Alwasy go in and out of the same door in your garage. Put a trash bag just inside to use only for disposal of gloves, wipes, etc. Hang your coat these and perhaps your shoes and pants. Keep possible contaminents from being brought further into the living area.

  4. Great article and am looking forward to part 2. I’ve been in health care for 35 years, as I became an EMT at 18, joined the military and became a Corpsman at 19. I’ve been in the field ever since.

    I’ve built up large stores of medical supplies, something not enough people focus on. There’s a lot of emphasis (rightly so) on guns and ammo, and to a lesser extent food, but most don’t know what to buy, or where to buy it, and they sure don’t know how to use it. Having the supplies and skills to use them, along with my military experience, should help in finding a group of like minded folks to partner with.

    I think folks don’t realize how much of these supplies they’ll need and greatly overestimate what they have on hand.

    The one issue I have with the article is that it is very difficult to know WHEN you should stop going to work and take that vacation time, or sick time.

    A pandemic could be out there for a long while, and unless you can take six months off, it’s going to be a problem.

    How do you know when to decide to pull the plug on work and school for a bit?


  5. I worry less about MERS, SARS, Zika or Ebola than I do about influenza (bird flu). Todays virulent strain of seasonal flu (H3N2) is pretty nasty but the real concern is with the H5 and H7
    subtypes. They mutate easier and faster than other strains. It is when they obtain a form where person to person transmission is easy is when we have to become real concerned.

    Stick to good scientific sites and you will get good information in a timely manner. The CDC, WHO or the best that I follow, CIDRAP (Center for Disease and Public Policy)(cidrap.mnu.edu).
    Every case or outbreak of any infectious disease is recorded, watched and followed. Go to main page of CIDRAP and click on Avian Influenza (Bird Flu) at the top. You’ll arrive at the page which gives a technical description of influenza and to the right of that (my favorite part) different subtopics which are easier to read and if you do read them will give you more knowledge than 99.9% of the population. All you wanted to know but were afraid to ask.

    The world may be smaller because of jet travel but I believe we could have several months warning as to when a pandemic is approaching us.

    Read “The Great Influenza”, the definitive work on the 1918 pandemic by John Berry. You won’t be able to put it down.

    Read “Deadliet Enemy : Our War Against Killer Germs”, by Michael T. Osterholm. PhD, MPH, and founder of CIDRAP. Basic foundational knowledge.

    I wish that the article’s author had separated influenza from the other viruses because they have different causes. Influenza is bird flu but has the greatest pandemic potential over the other viruses. There is no vaccine for the alphabets but isolation at this time.

    Antibiotics will not work for viruses but if you think you might give antivirals a go then by all means (I’m talking about a 1918 type event when we’ll be low on all medicines possibly). Also, you may have on hand an all spectrum antibiotic and think you wish to be proactive for any bacterial infection which results from the pandemic flu and it is not my place to suggest your course of action.

    Hygiene, hygiene, hygiene. Then isolation when it’s worse. Actually, I’m quite hopeful because I believe preppers are…well, prepared
    more than the general population and forewarned is forearmed. Just read good stuff.

  6. I have a supply of essential oils that have ant-viral properties. You can make your own blend from 4 or 5 oils or buy an immunity blend from a reputable company. Recipes for these blends are on-line and are known as thieves blends. One company even sells caplets containing their immunity blend. I take these with me on every trip where I am around a group of people. A good supply of Vitamin D3 and K2 are also in my medicine cabinet for flu season.

  7. just recently in the news:

    ht tp://www.foxnews.com/world/2018/01/29/swine-flu-bird-flu-hit-north-korea-and-south-korea-days-before-winter-olympics-kick-off.html

  8. Remember that liquid bleach is only good for about 6 months, after which is starts degrading. For a long duration pandemic (and any serious one will be long duration with multiple waves), consider learning how to create bleach from calcium hypochlorite. Some brands of pool shock are calcium hypochlorite with some inert ingredients, so it’s easy to acquire…just make sure you know ratios and most importantly how to safely use and store the calcium hypochlorite. I keep the directions stored with both plastic measuring scoops and the safety gear next to my plastic tub with the sealed pool shock packages.

  9. Good topic.

    I’m inclined to believe we are going to experience a pandemic in the near future. Everything seems to be pointing towards one. This current U.S. flu season is an example. It feels like we’ve had a lot of ‘near misses’ in the past few years.

    In conjunction with the transmission part. A new study has come out indicating transmission from just breathing, without sneezing or coughing. It’s still transmission through water droplets. Imagine the impact of an infectious person walking around, but without the standard signs, due to medication suppressing their cough and congestion.

  10. Does a compromised immune system result from a poor diet? I hear more and more about maintaining a healthy gut.

    Researchers say eighty to a hundred percent of our immune system is our gut, so avoiding gut destruction is my first line of defense.

    I eliminated grains, dairy, pesticides, Genetically Modified organisms. I avoid trans-fats such as the hydrogenated oils in margarine and frying oils. Immediately, I experienced significantly decreased inflammation. No more arthritis. No more allergies.

    Humans dump millions of tons of petroleum-based chemicals on crops. Could eliminating that crud eliminate disease?

    Does healthcare comes from my garden, working in it and eating from it? Fresh local seasonal organic?

    Suggestions in the post and the suggestions by the commenters tend to focus on defenses against infection. I prefer to establish an offense using the powerful anti-viral coconut oil.

    As a by-product of going Paleo in my diet and activities, I lost thirty pounds in thirty days. It was all water, edema from inflammation from unhealthy diet choices.

    I keep doing this because it works for me.

  11. During a pandemic, your post office, UPS, FedEx may inadvertently be spreading viruses – remember to use gloves to handle it, and sanitize your mailbox and the outside of your mail before bringing it into the household.

  12. ” 0.2 cups (so a little less than 1/4 cup) in a bit over 2 quarts is approximately the same.”

    Uhmmm, this is not correct. This would yield approximately a 2% solution.

    For a 10% solution you would add water to the .2 cups of bleach (i.e. 1.6 oz which is approx 10 tsp) to get a total of 2 cups; i.e. 14.4 oz of water.

    If you wanted a total of 2 quarts of solution, you would add enough water to 6.4 oz of bleach to get that total of 2 quarts; i.e. 57.6 oz of water).

    This also demonstrates why metric is so much easier to use. LOL

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