You should know that pandemics, when compared to other “doomsday” scenarios, are shockingly common, and very, very good at wiping out humanity where they take hold. A quick history lesson will provide ample and gruesome evidence of germ-borne mass death all throughout our time on earth.
Sobering and chilling stuff, to be sure.
Is there anything a prepper can do to stop the silent, invisible onslaught of these microscopic killers? The answer is yes, and in this article we’ll be taking a deep dive into the lurking threat posed by potential pandemics, and give you the tools and knowledge you need to keep your family and yourself free from infection and a slow, hideous death.
What Exactly Are We Dealing With?
A pandemic is a widespread, rapidly spreading outbreak of infectious disease that crosses international borders. Pandemics can of course strike humans, but can also affect animals and plant life. Pandemics affecting animals, especially mammals, rate special concern as it is often viruses that infect other mammals that will jump the gap to humans.
The most important classifying characteristic of a pandemic is that the disease must be infectious. For instance, heart disease, though lethal, widespread and responsible for a great number of deaths, is not considered a pandemic, as it is not infectious and transmissible. Something like the infamous and legendarily heinous outbreak of the Black Death in the 14th century is a classic pandemic in all respects.
In practical terms, a pandemic infects and re-transmits itself quickly, and will burn through densely inhabited areas like wildfire. Depending on the effects of the disease, this could mean widespread inconvenience and sick days or apocalyptic death tolls.
It is hard to say what form and what symptoms the next big pandemic will take: though groups like the World Health Organization (WHO) and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) carefully monitor any reported upstart and especially virulent diseases, there are severe bugs, known and unknown, waiting for a vector to carry them into the heart of civilization.
All of the countermeasures and preparedness tips presented in this article come from the published guidelines recommended by either the CDC or WHO. There is no conjecture or speculation on my part throughout. Dealing with something that you cannot see, but can sicken or kill you with all the vicious malevolence of a demon is no time for homebrew preventatives or fantastic theory.
Oh boy, if you needed some nightmare fuel to keep you awake at night look no further than historic accounts of pandemics. Some of the examples you’ll recognize, others will be new to you, but all are a terrible testament to the power of viruses and bacteria. Even worse, some pandemics rage across the globe as of the time of this article’s writing.
The following are just a few choice selections from the pantheon of pandemic death-dealers:
The Black Death, Yersinia pestis, 1338-1350, Death Toll: Est. 75 to 200 million.
The Black Death is synonymous with plague, and while historical accounts and records are spotty, jumbled and exceedingly difficult to collate, many historians believe this singular pandemic to be responsible for 50% of Europe’s population dying. Thought to have originated from rat fleas carried back by Western merchants in Asia.
photo: a man’s hand covered by bubonic plague black death
Symptoms include buboes about the neck, under the arms and, ugh, on the groin which discharged pus and blood. These progressed into black spots, and subsequently raging fever and vomiting of blood. Isolated cases of the Black Death persist today. Sleep tight.
Third Asiatic Cholera Pandemic, Vibrio cholera, 1846-1860, Death Toll: Unknown, estimated over 1.5 million.
Cholera is a persistent disease throughout history, and has struck more pandemics upon the world than other, lesser diseases. Seven major outbreaks throughout last 200 years leveled populations across the world with ghastly rapidity. Typical vectors are contaminated food and water.
photo: man suffering from cholera
This bacterium causes severe and watery diarrhea, along with bad cramping and vomiting. Rapid onset of dehydration and electrolyte imbalance is a major threat, lethality of severe untreated cases approaches 50%. Can be countered with antibiotics and good hygiene practices. Rare in the modern world, but remains a threat in less- or undeveloped nations.
Spanish Flu Pandemic, H1N1 Influenza virus, 1918-1920, Death Toll: 50-100 million.
A surprisingly virulent and deadly strain of the flu came and went in only 18 months, leaving 3-5% of the world’s population dead in its wake. Often cited as the worst medical holocaust in history. Unlike typical flu strains which often kill the young, infirm or old, this nasty variant readily killed young and healthy adults.
photo: Emergency hospital during Influenza epidemic Camp Funston Kansas
Symptoms were unusual for a flu virus, and commonly resulted in misdiagnosis early on. Mucous membrane hemorrhages were commonplace, and secondary pneumonia contributed to the lethality of this strain. Take heed: the rapid mutation of viruses can easily result in a shockingly lethal and hard to contain bug without any warning.
HIV/AIDS Pandemic, human immunodeficiency virus, peak 2005-2013, ongoing today, Death Toll: 35 million.
Currently ravaging Sub-Saharan Africa and parts of South-East Asia, HIV/AIDS is a reliable if slow killer, and spreads readily from sexual intercourse, dirty needles, and from intravenous transfusion of infected blood supplies.
Many carriers do not know they are infected and show no symptoms. There are over 1 million infected in the U.S. Without treatment, life expectancy is about a decade. There is no known cure.
Symptoms are initially flu-like, and will progress to swollen lymph nodes, weight loss and high fever. Death usually results from opportunistic infection from lesser germs thanks to a compromised immune system. Viral-induced cancers are an additional risk.
Stages of a Pandemic
The WHO has developed a global preparedness plan that outlines the phases of a pandemic, including behavior of germs prior to the onset of the pandemic proper. This prior phase is called the interpandemic period, where the phase immediately before its onset is called the pandemic alert phase, meaning conditions for a pandemic to begin are ideal.
This WHO phases are classified specifically for influenza, but apply readily to other germs as well.
Phase 1: No new flu subtypes detected in humans. Subtype that causes human infection may be present in animals, but risk of human infection is considered low.
Phase 2: No new flu subtypes detected in humans. However, a circulating animal-borne subtype does pose a significant risk to humans.
Pandemic Alert Period
Phase 3: Humans infected with new subtype, but no person-to-person spread, or very rare spread from close contact.
Phase 4: Small outbreaks with limited person-to-person transmission. Still very localized, or not well-adapted to humans.
Phase 5: Larger outbreaks, still localized. Virus is probably adapting better to humans, but not yet fully transmissible.
Phase 6: Pandemic- transmission between general population is increased and sustained.
What Options do I have for Defense?
Germs are scary; utterly silent, completely invisible, and able to multiply and transmit from a host who is showing no signs or symptoms. Inducing paranoia in people is only a happy accident of their pathology. While you may not be able to spot germs, scare them away or shoot them, you can thwart them with strict discipline and adherence to stringent hygiene and sanitary protocols.
You should be rigorously following these protocols at all times, not just when you see authorities warning of an outbreak on the news. Should that occur however, you will want to go to “war-posture” in the fight against the bacterial or viral menace; redouble your efforts, and take no chances. There is no such thing as too clean and sanitary.
The following procedures are taken directly from the CDC guidelines. I have added my own commentary in addition.
Mission: Limit spread of germs, prevent infection.
#1: Avoid close contact with the sick. The chances of picking up germs from their body fluid discharges or off of their immediate surroundings are too great. Keep a wide berth from all sick people and areas they inhabit. If you must go into public areas, assume everything is contaminated.
#2: Keep your distance from others if you are sick. You have a responsibility to not spread the infection if at all possible. Quarantine yourself for the good of all.
#3: Cover your mouth when coughing or sneezing. With a cloth or tissue if possible. This will limit the transmission of germs and help keep those around you from getting sick.
#4: Wash your hands frequently! This will help protect you from infection by clearing germs from your hands, thus preventing their spread to vulnerable parts of your anatomy or to other surfaces which may then infect others.
#5: Do not touch your eyes, nose or mouth. Stop! This requires attention and discipline, but it must be done. All of the above parts of your body are highly vulnerable to invading microbes. If you wipe your eyes, pick your nose or scratch your lip you could become infected easily. Even when you have decontaminated and rinsed your hands, make it a point to leave your face alone!
#6: Practice good health. Adequate sleep, physical activity, proper hydration and nutritious food are all immune system-boosting steps that will help your body deal with invaders. As bad as a super-germ may be, it will have a far easier time slaying someone who is already unhealthy than it will a prime physical specimen.
#7: Regularly disinfect surfaces in your home. Especially ones that are used for food prep and hygiene tasks. Use a cleaner that has known antiseptic qualities in the recommended strength and leave it on the surface being cleaned for the proscribed amount of time before wiping down. Germs can survive longer than you think.
What Should I Do to Endure a Pandemic?
Even if you are in an area with no cases, keep in mind it only takes one infected person rolling through town, perhaps stopping for gas and opening the door to the mini-mart with a bug-ridden hand to leave behind a clump of germs that will sicken and kill you and your neighbors.
If a pandemic is underway anywhere in your country or region, assume it is already present in your area and enact your prevention procedures. A single confirmed case in your immediate or neighboring area should be cause enough to button-up if the germ is highly lethal.
As always, preparation is key. Assuming you are not infected when things start to get really bad in your area, your best bet is to shut yourself and your family in for the duration if at all possible. To do this you will need a supply of provisions including staples like water, food, medicine (including prescription drugs) and the like. No surprises there. You may also want to stock up on lightweight masks to cover your nose and mouth when in public.
Pandemic specific preps will include obtaining copies of all health records, prescriptions and other important health records for you and your entire group and keeping copies in triplicate both on paper and electronically. These may become vitally important to treatment or prevention and having them close at hand could prove crucial.
Padding your stockpiles of cold/flu, cough, fever-reducer, pain, anti-diarrhea and nausea meds as well as electrolyte replacement powder or fluid will be necessary to help deal with symptoms should become infected and cannot get to higher level care. Many bugs feature diarrhea and vomiting as common symptoms and you will want to be prepared to combat the dehydration they cause.
You will also want to prepare for the possibility of quarantining an infected family member or even yourself, either in home or at a designated location and discussing contingency planning and/or care should it occur.
If a pandemic is severe enough that it begins to strain society and order to its breaking point, you can expect the usually lawlessness that occurs after any major disaster where authority is scarce to take place, though this will likely be dampened by fears of infection among the brigands. Standard security and safety measures apply: have a weapon, flashlights and a plan for dealing with any intruders. Decide ahead of time if you will risk breaking quarantine or infection to help those in need.
Firearms are again your best bet here for defense as they allow you to maintain distance from other people. Pepper spray is another fine alternative, and don’t forget about other non-lethal weapons. It is grisly, but you should have a plan for dealing with possible contamination sources resulting from spilled blood or other organic matter in the event that no authorities are available or able to respond. Bleach, absorbent media, thick disposable gloves and a wrap around face shield and mask are mandatory in this scenario.
A lethal pandemic is one of the scariest, and unfortunately one of the most plausible crisis scenarios a prepper could encounter today. Germs are impossible to detect outside a lab setting, and afford no time to react or counter when exposed if protective measures are not already in place and best practices followed.
Luckily today, we are likely to have some warning when a pandemic is looming or likely, so study up now so that you will be able to respond quickly and decisively when that occurs.
With a little luck, you and yours can ride out the pestilence with nary a runny nose.