“Pandemic” is one of the scariest words in the English language. The coronavirus outbreak in China is making global headlines and it has many of us on edge.

Health officials are cautioning this is not yet a global health emergency but it has potential to become one. Whether it’s coronavirus or some future unknown pathogen, history tells us there will probably be a major pandemic in our lifetime.

Be prepared by following these 18 essentials:

No. 1 Accurate and timely information is key. Confusion and misinformation are the biggest threat to public safety during an outbreak. Get up-to-date information from trusted sources like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy, and your state health department. Follow them on Facebook or Twitter and pay attention to their updates and guidance. Your local news station is good for public alerts but keep in mind they are not health experts.

No. 2 Limit contact with other people. During an outbreak you should avoid large gatherings and postpone social events. Remember that individuals may be contagious before they look or feel sick. Self-isolation is about reducing your risk; the less people you have contact with the less likely you are to be exposed.

No. 3 Stock up. Every trip to the grocery store, bank, and Target run puts you at risk during an outbreak. Avoid unnecessary errands to public places by having a sufficient stockpile of food, cash, medications, books, games, wine … whatever you need to isolate yourself at home and stay comfortable for an extended amount of time — potentially up to 6-8 weeks.

Tip No. 11 to guard against a possible pandemic: buy a box of disposable face masks. Flickr: Rosalie Morris

No. 4 Work from home if possible. Many companies have contingency plans for a serious outbreak event and will make arrangements for staff to work remotely. Do you have the necessary equipment and supplies to do your job at home?

No. 5 Have really clean hands. There is a reason that surgeons fist bump instead of shaking hands, open doors with their feet, and sneeze into their elbows — the majority of infections (even airborne ones) are most commonly spread via hand contact. Vigorously wash your hands with soap and warm water after using the bathroom, before eating, and when visibly dirty. Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer for all other times. Sanitize your hands after touching anything that someone else may have touched — door handles, mail, food packaging, everything. You cannot sanitize your hands too much. Keep a box of disposable gloves handy too.

No. 6 Disinfect your surroundings often. Clean hard surfaces and touch points at least daily during an outbreak. Use cleaning products that contain bleach or another disinfectant (Clorox Wipes work great); this is not the time for “natural” or organic products. Wear clothing in public that can be washed in hot water and preferably bleached after each use.

No. 7 Put together a simple medical kit. It should include two thermometers (a good one and a backup), ibuprofen, antidiarrheal, stomach medicine, electrolyte pouches, and a mild sleep aid like melatonin.

No. 8 Stay current with your vaccinations. Not all deaths during an outbreak are from the disease itself. Secondary infections are common because of a weakened immune system and significantly contribute to the overall death toll. Maximize your protection from a new disease by immunizing yourself against known diseases like seasonal influenza, pneumonia, and whooping cough.

No. 9 Get a copy of your health records. Verify the information is accurate and includes current medications, dosage, and any allergies. Maintain both paper and electronic versions that can be shared with medical providers if the health system becomes overwhelmed.

Drink Plenty Of Water

No. 10. Boost your immune system. A common misconception is that it only takes one single bacteria (called a bacterium) or virus particle (called a virion) to make you sick. In reality, most people must be exposed to many germs to become infected and that number depends, in part, on how healthy and robust your immune system is. Help your natural immunity by drinking plenty of water, limiting alcohol, getting adequate sleep, and maintaining a healthy diet. Consider taking a multivitamin if you don’t eat many fruits and vegetables.

No. 11 Buy a box of disposable face masks. The paper-type masks commonly used in hospitals offer some protection by blocking germ laden droplets in the air from being inhaled. Even better are respirators (called N95 masks) that actually filters microbes out of the air you breathe. You can buy a box of these disposable masks for about $25 at any hardware store. Any type of NIOSH-approved N95 masks will do (look for the NIOSH label on the box). Don’t reuse disposable masks.

Know what to expect during a worst-case-scenario.

No. 12 Prepare to be a caregiver. Family members will rely on your support if they get sick. Have a separate isolation area in your home, such as a bedroom, and use dedicated bath towels, eating utensils, and cups for anyone that has symptoms. Be sure to stock up on bleach, tissues, and trash bags.

No. 13 Have a plan for childcare. Schools and daycare centers are often the first to close during an outbreak as a precautionary measure.

No. 14 Know what to expect during a worst-case-scenario. The 1918 Spanish Flu killed 3-5% of the world’s population. A major pandemic has not occurred since then and society has changed drastically in the past 100 years. There is no shortage of apocalyptic TV shows and movies featuring pandemics but Hollywood falls seriously short on accuracy. One notable exception is the 2011 film “Contagion.” Its producers sought the guidance of today’s leading disease experts to portray an accurate worst-case pandemic scenario. It’s worth a watch.

No. 15 Communicate accurate information. We all know people who are prone to believing rumors or likely to ignore public warnings. These people, no matter how well-intentioned, are a threat to themselves and others around them. For example, during the last Ebola outbreak a mere 3% of sick people were responsible for about 61% of all infections because they dismissed or ignored official guidance. Everyone has a public health duty to communicate facts and challenge myths.

No. 16 DO NOT get carried away by purchasing air purifiers, biohazard suits, or stockpiling weapons to defend against marauding bands of the infected. This is movie fiction and unnecessary for the general public.

No. 17 DO NOT rely on a quick vaccine or medication to save the day. It can take several months or more to develop a new vaccine and make it available to everyone. Your best shot at staying healthy in the meantime is to follow the non-pharmaceutical interventions listed here.

No. 18 DO NOT panic. Even in a worst-case-scenario, which is super unlikely, the odds are still in your favor and a little common sense goes a long way. You got this.

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