We’re Living in a Pandemic: Now What Do We Do?

3 things parents should consider as they adjust to life in a time of influenza pandemic

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We’re now officially in the world’s first flu pandemic of the 21st century and the first in 41 years. Strangely, a pandemic doesn’t feel much different from ordinary life. But that’s no surprise to the flu specialists. The United States and the rest of North America have actually been in a pandemic since May, when the swine flu began spreading easily in communities. It turns out it’s a mild pandemic, thank goodness. But that soon could change. The World Health Organization’s declaration of a pandemic was based on its global spread to 70 countries, not on its severity.

But flu experts are worried that the H1N1 virus could mutate and become more dangerous in its travels around the globe this summer, coming back to hit us hard in late summer or early fall. In the horrible 1918 flu pandemic, the deadly second wave hit in August.

What are parents to do, given that we’re now in a pandemic waiting game? I asked infectious disease experts and risk specialists that question. “Don’t worry very much about the current situation,” says Peter Sandman, a risk management consultant in Princeton, N.J., who advises governments on pandemic preparations. “But do a little bit of planning, and stay vigilant for the fact that the situation could get worse.” Most important, don’t think that just because we’re now in a mild pandemic, that it will stay that way. Here’s what my sources said parents should consider in adjusting to life during a pandemic:

  • Keep an eye on what happens in Australia and South America in the next few months. The H1N1 flu is just taking off there, and flu outbreaks are usually worse in winter, the season the Southern Hemisphere is in now. Events there will give us an early warning of what we might face this fall, when the flu season usually starts in the United States.
    • For scientifically sound flu news, stay tuned to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s H1N1 flu updates online. You can also stay current on H1N1 news via the CDC’s H1N1 RSS feed, sign up for E-mail alerts, or follow CDCemergency on Twitter. (This last provides a golden excuse to noodle around on Twitter. Family health demands it!)
      • Be thinking about how your family would manage with having to stay home for an extended period, which might happen if the pandemic becomes more serious and schools or workplaces close for a time. Stockpiling staple foods and medical supplies is a good way to start. Here’s practical advice on family flu preparations that I got from Ted Epperly, president of the American Academy of Family Physicians.
      • I’ve stockpiled staples like pasta, peanut butter, coffee, and, of course, toilet paper. What would you put in your family stockpile? I’m wondering what treats would be best, if the flu turns deadlier and we’re all holed up at home, hoping to ride it out. What will you do? Let’s share ideas.