Begin Main Content Area

Pandemic Information

What is a pandemic?

A pandemic is a global outbreak of a disease. An pandemic happens when a new strain of a virus appears for which people have little or no immunity. As a result, it spreads easily from person to person around the world, causing widespread illness and death. Individuals, families, caregivers, healthcare workers and teachers can all take steps now to get ready for a pandemic before it happens. It is recommended that Pennsylvanians take time to review the PA Emergency Preparedness Guide.

How does a disease become a pandemic?

In nature, different strains of viruses occur all the time among animals. Most of these viruses do not produce disease in people. But sometimes human viruses and those found in animals mix together to produce new strains. Since the resulting virus is new to the human immune system, people have little defense against it. If a new virus spreads easily, it can produce a pandemic. The pandemic will likely spread quickly around the globe.

How can I protect myself during a pandemic?

You may not be able to prevent a flu pandemic from happening, but there are many things you can do to protect yourself if a pandemic does occur.

Stay Healthy

  • Keep yourself in shape by eating nutritious foods, not smoking, exercising regularly, and getting enough sleep.
  • Get a flu shot every fall so you're protected against seasonal flu.

Avoid Getting or Spreading Infectious Disease

  • Cough or sneeze into a tissue or your sleeve.
  • Wash your hands often with warm soap and water.
  • If you don't have access to soap and water, use an alcohol-based, waterless hand cleaner.

Make a Family Emergency Plan

  • Know how you will get in touch with each other in an emergency and where you will meet.
  • Keep a list of emergency phone numbers in a handy place. Store emergency numbers in your cell phones under "ICE" ("In Case of Emergency"), so someone else can call your emergency numbers if you're not able to.
  • Know what routes you will use if you have to evacuate.

Create an Emergency Kit

Make sure your kit has everything you'll need to get by if you have to remain at home for a period of time - up to two weeks, if possible. Be sure to include:

  • A supply of drinking water (one gallon per person per day) and food that won't spoil (like canned meats and vegetables).
  • Basic equipment like a flashlight, battery-operated radio, batteries, and a can opener.
  • Personal care products including soap, toiletries, waterless hand cleaner, extra glasses or contact lenses, prescription and over-the-counter drugs, tissues and toilet paper, and any special items for infants or people with special health needs.
  • A good first aid kit.
  • Kitchen utensils and dishwashing supplies.
  • Extra clothing and bedding.
  • Other useful items like a notebook and pen, whistle, money and credit cards, extra car keys, medical and insurance information, and copies of other important documents.
  • Games, reading material, and other entertainment items. You might need to stay home for a while during a pandemic.

To learn more about being prepared, visit the ReadyPA website.

What is the possible impact on communities?

A severe pandemic would result in high rates of illness and people would not be able to go to work. This would affect the economy and almost every aspect of day-to-day life. Daily life would become especially difficult when people who provide needed services like power, transportation and communications, could not come to work.

Disruption of Important Services

  • In a pandemic, services you normally use may not be available. These could include services provided by hospitals and other healthcare facilities, banks, restaurants, government offices, garbage collection, telephone and cell phone companies and post offices.
  • Stores may close or have limited supplies.
  • Transportation services may not be available and public transportation may not be operable.
  • Public gatherings, like volunteer meetings and worship services, may be canceled.
  • The ability to travel, even by car if there are fuel shortages, may be limited.
  • Widespread severe illness could result in the shutdown of local ATMs and banks.

Limited Food and Water Supplies

  • During a severe pandemic, food and water supplies could be affected so temporary shortages could occur.

Difficult or Impossible Ability to Work

  • Business may be interrupted during a pandemic.
  • You may need to take leave or arrange to work from home to care for sick family members and avoid being around sick colleagues.
  • People may lose income if they are unable to work or companies temporarily close.

Schools and Daycare Centers Closure for Extended Period of Time

  • Public and private preschool, childcare, trade schools, K-12 and colleges and universities may be closed to limit the spread of flu during a severe pandemic and to help prevent children from getting sick. School closings would likely happen very early in a pandemic and could happen on short notice.
  • Children may need to stay home for extended periods of time, as school closings may occur along with restrictions on public gatherings, such as at malls and movie theaters.

Disruptions of Medical Care

  • In a severe pandemic, hospitals and doctors' offices may be overwhelmed and medical supplies and staff could become difficult to find.

Updated 3/9/2020