Preparing For a Pandemic
March 14, 2006 -
Over the weekend, the government told
Americans to start storing canned foods and powdered milk
under their beds as the prospect of a deadly bird flu
outbreak approaches the United States. The fear is that
the bird flu will turn into a pandemic and drastically
alter the course of American life for a time.
The Red Cross says that if there's a pandemic, we need to
prepare for 10 days of being stuck in our homes, and that
we may be without power and water during that time. In
the event of a bird flu pandemic, Americans should plan
for interruptions or delays in other services: Banks
might close, hospitals could be overwhelmed, and postal
service could be spotty. Experts also say that people
need to begin stocking up on extra food and supplies like
protective masks, flashlights, portable radios, batteries
"When you go to the store and buy three cans of tuna
fish, buy a fourth and put it under the bed. When you go
to the store to buy some milk, pick up a box of powdered
milk, put it under the bed," said Health and Human
Services Secretary Mike Leavitt. "When you do that for a
period of four to six months, you are going to have a
couple of weeks of food. And that's what we're talking
Previous pandemics occurred in 1918, 1957 and 1968, and
the worst waves of illness seem to pass through
communities in a matter of six weeks to eight weeks.
Computer models suggest about 30 percent of people could
be infected, but not all at the same time.
In the event of a pandemic, people must practice what the
health officials call "social distancing," or keeping
away from other people's germs. Schools and day-care
centers could be closed, sporting events and other large
gatherings could be canceled, and shaking hands could
become socially unacceptable, at least for a while.
Darlene Washington, the director of disease prevention
education at the American Red Cross, came to "Good
Morning America" to go over some of the must-haves in the
event of a bird flu pandemic.
"We recommend that each member of your family has a
gallon of water for each day, so a family of four needs
to have 40 gallons of water available and you need that
much water stored because there's a chance that your
water will get cut off if there's a pandemic," Washington
said. "Workers may not be able to make it, and plants may
stop operating. Your family will need to drink water and
for hygiene, for brushing their teeth and washing their
"You need foods that will not spoil," Washington said.
"So you need canned foods like tuna. You also need to get
foods that you don't have to heat, because just like your
water, your powers may go out, too. In addition, to
things like canned tuna, you should start storing peanut
butter, protein, bars, crackers. Again, foods that have a
long shelf life and that don't need to be heated. Make
sure you have enough formula and baby food to get through
that 10 days. You have to plan for every member of your
family and that includes your pets. So get extra dog food
or cat food, and make sure you have extra water for your
pets. You need a 10-day supply for everyone."
"Stores are going to run out of what you need, too,"
Washington said. "So that's why you need to stock up now.
And we encourage families to have supplies on hand like
flashlights and batteries, matches. Hand-cranked or
battery-operated radios, and a manual can opener, because
you are going to need to open all those cans of food. And
this may not seem important but you must get activities
for your children and yourself, games, coloring books,
"You have to have all those on hand to keep your home
clean and to have receptacles for all your trash," she
said. "You probably won't have trash service and you need
to account for that. You need to make sure to have paper
towels, toilet paper and soap. Everything you need to
keep your home clean and practice good hygiene."
"You need to get an additional 10 days of all your
prescription medications," Washington said. "You should
also have over-the-counter, fever-reducing medications;
medications for upset stomach; and cold and flu
medication. You'll also want to have fluids like Gatorade
and Pedialite, which have electrolytes and will help a
family member rehydrate if they get sick. Also, keep a
few thermometers around in case someone gets sick."
If a Family Member Gets Sick
"The first thing is to strengthen your hand washing and
to have the infected family member cover his mouth when
he coughs," she said. "You should also keep that person
isolated in a certain part of the house and identify a
family member who will help him. You may have to take