The effects from a major infectious disease outbreak or pandemic are more noticeable than during a regular flu or cold season. More people will get sick, and some will get very ill. Find information here to help you and your family be prepared in the event of an outbreak, from having an emergency kit to practicing healthy hygiene to prevent the spread.

Prevention Tips

Although no one knows for sure when the next pandemic will arrive or how severe it will be, it is important to be prepared. If fact, there are a number of basic steps you can take which will help you and your family to be better prepared for many types of emergencies such as power outages, storms, floods, etc. … as well as a pandemic.

Start with a plan for you and your family and make plans to be prepared. Below are some general steps you can take.

  1. Have an emergency kit.
    • Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Canada has a web site called "72 Hours: Is your Family Prepared?" which will help you prepare a basic kit as well as create a plan. For a pandemic, you may wish to be prepared for a longer period of time such as a week or two but know that some recommendations have extended this time period up to six weeks. This longer time is the estimated length of time for each "wave" of the pandemic.
    • Add items to your general emergency kit that will be helpful during a pandemic:
      Virus Defence
      • Regular soap (and water), or hand sanitizers
      • Disinfectant wipes/spray
      • Tissues

      Medicine Cabinet
      • Thermometer
      • Fever/Pain Relief (e.g. acetaminophen, ibuprofen)
      • Cough, Cold and Flu Medicine
      • Stomach remedies
      • Fluids
      • Anti-diarrhea medicine
      • Vitamins
      • An extra supply of regular prescriptions

  2. Track your Emergency contacts
    • Keep important contact information in one document. Program important phone numbers into your home phone, cell phone, and computer. For close family contacts, you may also want to list their full addresses, all phone numbers, and e-mails.
      • It is a good idea to have at least one contact that lives out-of-town. This person should live far enough away that they will probably not be affected by the same event as you.
      • If you are new to the area and do not know many people, make arrangements with work, or a person at a local cultural or community organization.
      • If you live alone, make special arrangements with other family members, friends or neighbours. Ask that they keep in contact with you, or come to check on you. Be sure that any family or friends that live alone have made these arrangements for themselves.

    • A sample list of contact numbers includes:

      Local Emergency Numbers  
      • Fire, Police, Ambulance
      911 (where available) or
      Non-Emergency Local Numbers  
      • Police
      • Fire
      • Doctors Office / Health Clinic
      • Other
      Family and Friends (Don't forget to list home, work and cell numbers)
      Out of Town Contact  

  3. Health information and needs
    • Have a current list of medical information for each family member. Talk to you doctor about preparing a short-term supply of medications or necessary medical supplies. Don't forget to include extra prescription orders since pharmacy services may be temporarily unavailable. Make a "grab bag" with a two-week supply, if possible.

    Person Health Information and Special Needs (include location of their "grab bag")

  4. Pets
    • Don't forget to add extra water for your pets to your emergency kit (about 1 litre/day for a medium sized dog), as well as their food or any medications they may need.
    • Find places that may be able to care for your pets such as other family members or a kennel. If you need to go to a public shelter or a hotel, many will not allow pets.

Caring for yourself and your family

Medical services may not be available during a pandemic so you may have to take care of yourself and family members. If you do get the flu, there are ways to relieve the symptoms and monitor your health at home.

  • Stay home to prevent the spread of flu to others.
  • Wash your hands properly and often. Use soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds each time, or alcohol-based hand cleaners to reduce chance of spreading flu to others.
  • Drink plenty of fluids (water, juice, milk and herbal teas; avoid caffeine because it makes you lose fluid from your body).
  • Get plenty of rest.
  • Take a warm bath.
  • Gargle with a glass of warm water and/or suck on sugarless hard candy or lozenges to relieve a sore throat.
  • Use a hot water bottle or heating pad. Apply heat for a few minutes at a time to reduce muscle pain but be careful not to burn your skin.
  • Ask your pharmacist or doctor ahead of time about suggestions for over-the-counter medicine, especially if you have chronic health problems.
  • Take basic pain/fever relievers. Acetaminophen or ibuprofen are helpful. Do not give Acetylsalicylic acid (ASA or Aspirin) to children or teenagers as it may cause Reye's syndrome.
  • Use saline drops, spray or decongestants for a stuffed nose.
  • Take cough medicine to help with dry cough.
  • Avoid alcohol and tobacco.
  • Avoid sharing anything that may carry viruses (towels, cosmetics, cigarettes, drinks, toys).
  • Call someone to help you until you are feeling better especially important if you are alone, are a single parent or are responsible for the care of someone who is frail or disabled.

Adapted from: BC Health Files Pandemic Influenza Series - Number 94c May 2006, Self Care During an Influenza Pandemic

Don't forget! Call your doctor if your symptoms get worse! Generally, people with seasonal flu feel better in about five to seven days but cough and tiredness can last up to two to three weeks. The recovery time for a pandemic flu is not yet known - it may or may not be longer.

When to see a doctor

During a pandemic, essential health care services will continue but they may be working with a lower number of staff available. Most people will be encouraged to care for themselves or their family at home.

However, be sure to talk to your doctor about precautions you can take beforehand, and what to do if you get sick. This advice is very important if you

  • have a chronic medical condition (e.g. heart or lung disease) that requires regular medical attention
  • are on treatments or medications that affect your immune system, or
  • are frail or have an illness.

For everybody, it is important to know that if your influenza symptoms get worse, you should get medical advice or care right away. Call ahead to your doctor's office to let them know you have influenza. They may discuss your illness over the phone, or make recommendations about seeing a professional. Special clinics for people with influenza or influenza-like symptoms may be set up. Your doctor's office might ask you to go there for health care, and will tell you where clinics are located.

Seek medical care right away if you notice any of the following:

Adults Children
  • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
  • Pain or pressure in the chest or stomach
  • Confusion or disorientation
  • Coughing up bloody sputum
  • Severe or lasting vomiting
  • Symptoms (fever and cough) improve and then become worse
  • Fast or troubled breathing
  • Bluish lips or skin colour
  • Not drinking enough fluids and/or not urinating regularly (about every 6 hours when awake)
  • Listlessness, not waking up or interacting
  • Severe irritability, not wanting to be held
  • Symptoms (fever and cough) improve and then become worse
  • Fever with a rash

(Adapted from "Pandemic Influenza Preparedness" by BC Ministry of Health)

Tips to stay healthy

You can reduce your risk of getting pandemic flu by doing many of the same things you would do to protect yourself from the seasonal flu:

  • Get your annual flu shot. It will protect you from seasonal flu. Being sick may weaken your immune system and thus lower your resistance to the pandemic flu virus.
  • Wash your hands with soap and water thoroughly for at least 20 seconds, and wash often - viruses can live on hard surfaces (e.g., doorknobs) for up to 2 days, and on your hands for up to 5 minutes.
  • Post instructions about hand washing in all workplaces, bathrooms, and eating areas.
  • Keep alcohol-based hand sanitizers (gels or wipes) handy and use them often.
    • Do not use water or dry hands with paper towels after using a hand sanitizer.
    • Some manufacturers recommend washing your hands with soap and water after 5-10 sanitizer applications.
  • Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Put the tissue in the garbage immediately.
  • If you do not have a tissue, cough or sneeze into your upper sleeve, not your hands.
  • Avoid touching your face and eyes. Viruses can easily enter your body through your eyes, mouth and nose.
  • Cleaning - Clean handrails, door knobs, light switches, counter tops, sinks and water taps, key boards, and telephones, and other surfaces that may be touched by many people by using household detergents.
  • Stay home when you are sick. If someone in your household is sick, consider staying home as well in case you are already infected.
  • Avoid large crowds where viruses can spread more easily.
  • Limit face-to-face contact.
  • Reduce unnecessary travel.
  • Follow any instructions from public health officials.
  • Keep yourself as healthy as possible before the pandemic starts. Try to exercise regularly, eat well, get enough rest, and keep stress to a minimum.

A note about vaccines:
Getting a vaccine (the "flu shot") is a proven way to reduce the overall number of people from becoming ill during a flu outbreak. However, a vaccine specific to the new virus strain will take time to develop, test and manufacture - four to six months and maybe longer. A vaccine is unlikely to be available during the first wave of pandemic, but may be available during the second wave. Health officials recommend getting the annual flu shot. It will protect you from being sick with the regular flu, which will weaken your immune system and thus lower your resistance to the pandemic flu virus.

Where to find updates

There are several places for reliable information. It is always in your best interest to respect and follow the advice of your public health authorities.

Federal Government: The official Government of Canada Pandemic Influenza website is: or you can call their information line at 1-800-454-8302

The Canadian Government has created the Canadian Pandemic Influenza Plan (available online at The plan maps out how Canada will prepare for and respond to an influenza pandemic. Federal, provincial and territorial governments worked together on its development, and the plan is revised as new information becomes available.

The main groups involved are the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) and Health Canada. PHAC focuses on chronic diseases, like cancer and heart disease, injury prevention, and responds to public health emergencies and infectious disease outbreaks. PHAC's website is

Health Canada provides nationwide coordination for the influenza response. Health Canada's website is

Provincial / Territorial Government:
Your Provincial or Territorial Government will also be a source of information specific for your area. The phone numbers are listed in the Blue pages of your phone book (in the provincial or territorial section) or you can visit the official website for your province or territory.

Local Health Authorities:
Every municipality (city, town, region) also has a Public Health department or local health authority. Because these departments are responsible for your community, they understand the unique needs and challenges of your area.

Again, you can contact these departments by using their phone number (as listed in the Blue pages under Municipal government) or by calling your city hall for help.

Medical Officer of Health
Each health authority (federal, provincial/territorial and municipal) has a Chief Medical Health Officer to provide direction to the health agency, and to be a spokesperson on public health issues.

Local Media
Listen to trusted radio and TV stations (for example, the one(s) you listen to for school cancellations) or read your local newspaper for announcements, recommendations and/or advisories from Public Health.