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Pandemic Resources

Definition

Pandemic flu is a global outbreak of a new influenza A virus that is easily and quickly transmitted from person to person. Most people will not have pre-existing immunity, and a vaccine may not be available for 4 to 6 months after the virus is identified. A moderate pandemic flu causes more widespread and severe illness than seasonal flu. A severe pandemic flu, caused by a more virulent strain of virus, may result in widespread loss of life. A pandemic flu only occurs three or four times in a century.  

It is different from a seasonal flu (also called common flu) which is a respiratory illness caused by a flu virus that has previously circulated in the population and is transmitted from person to person. Seasonal flu usually occurs during the winter months. Most people will have some pre-existing immunity to it, and effective vaccines against infection are produced each season as the virus is identified.

Before

One of the best ways to lessen the impact of pandemic flu on families is to be prepared beforehand. To improve their preparedness, families should:

  • Get a seasonal flu shot every year. Unless vaccine is in short supply, all members 6 months of age and older are candidates for a flu shot.
  • Practice preventive behaviors:
    • Wash your hands frequently
    • Avoid close contact with people who are sick
    • Stay at home when you have flu symptoms
    • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing
  • Keep basic health supplies on hand. Supplies should include soap, tissues, aspirin or acetaminophen, and a thermometer.
  • Discuss what pandemic flu is, how it is contracted, and the possible dangers. Hold this discussion in a comfortable environment and encourage children to ask questions. Families may want to consider having separate discussions with young children in order to address specific fears or misconceptions.
  • Store supplies. These include drinking water, canned food, prescriptions and over-the-counter medicines. Families should also be prepared for possible power disruptions and have flashlights, batteries, and cash.
  • Create a list of emergency telephone numbers and helpful community resources. The list should include the family's schools and physicians, local utility companies, fire and police, the local Red Cross and Salvation Army, and the community mental health center. The preparedness wallet card can help families keep track of their contacts.
  • Develop a plan for maintaining contact with friends and family members. Discuss ways to maintain connections via telephone and Internet.

During

A pandemic flu can be very stressful. To limit the spread of the flu, individuals will be encouraged to keep their distance from others and avoid interacting if there are any signs of illness. If sick, individuals may have to be isolated or quarantined. Some services may no longer be offered in-person and will only be accessible remotely. Schools may also be closed. These changes can severely disrupt social supports and increase feelings of isolation. To help a family cope with the stress, consider the following recommendations:

  • Stay updated about what is happening with the flu. Families should learn how to get updated information from official media or social media outlets, local public health authorities, and public health websites.
  • Seek support from friends and family. Encourage families to maintain social connections by talking to supports on the telephone, by texting, by emailing, or using social media outlets.
  • Maintain a healthy diet and exercise. This includes families that are isolated or quarantined.
  • Limit media and social media viewing to reduce stress. Although parents and caregivers should stay informed, they should minimize exposure to television news or other information that might promote stress or panic. They need to also be aware of and limit the media viewing of children. Social media and some websites may have sensational flu coverage which can foster rumors. Parents and caregivers should check to see what children are viewing and clarify any questions or misinformation.
  • Maintain family routines. Encourage families to maintain consistent schedules when it comes to bedtimes, meals, and exercise. Have families identify different activities to do together at home, such as resting, reading, watching movies, listening to music, playing games, exercising, or engaging in religious activities. View these handouts for some ideas. 
  • Initiate conversations and offer support. Encourage parents and caregivers to support children and other family members by encouraging questions and helping them understand the situation; praising good behavior; talking about their feelings; helping them express their feelings through drawing or other activities; and creating household jobs or activities that involve them. Recognize that feelings such as grief, guilt, loneliness, boredom, fear of contracting disease, anxiety, stress, and panic are normal reactions to a stressful situation.
  • Maintain children’s learning. Encourage families to identify distance learning opportunities that may be offered by their schools or other institutions/organizations or encourage children to spend time using academically-oriented mobile apps or website games.
  • Practice their own self-care. Discuss how parents and caregivers can care for themselves and give themselves small breaks from the stress of the situation. This includes shifting expectations and priorities to focus more on what gives them meaning, purpose, or fulfillment. Help them modify their goals to meet the current reality of the situation and focus on what they can accomplish.

After

The greatest threat from a pandemic flu is loss of life, and families and children will need support with grief reactions. While grief is natural, encourage families to try to find positive ways to cope with their feelings. Here are several helpful actions:

  • Encourage them to reach out to their friends and family and talk to them about their loss. Use telephones, social media, and e-mail to communicate if necessary.
  • Seek religious/spiritual help or professional counseling (this may be available online or by telephone).
  • Find outlets for their feelings such as writing, drawing, exercising, blogging, and any other relaxing activity.
  • Stay engaged with daily activities or projects.

If family members experience significant distress or trouble coping with problems associated with the pandemic flu, they may benefit from professional mental health treatment. Watch for these symptoms or reactions:

  • Loss of sleep, frequent nightmares, or disruptive and intrusive thoughts
  • Feelings of depression or inability to participate in normal activities
  • Disorientation, extreme memory difficulties, or losing awareness of time
  • A previously diagnosed mental health condition that may be recurring or worsening
  • Inability to care for self (eating, bathing, or handling daily life)

Remember, during a pandemic it may be difficult to access professional mental health services in person. There will be crisis hotlines available, so make sure that residents have access to this information by distributing it widely.  They can also try to contact local mental health providers who offer help over the telephone or through the Internet. Consult your local mental health association, community mental health centers, or other local mental health professionals to find out what services are available in the area.

Below are resources to support children, families, and communities to recover after pandemics.

NCTSN Resource

Age-Related Reactions to a Traumatic Event

Type: Fact Sheet

Describes how young children, school-age children, and adolescents react to traumatic events and offers suggestions on how parents and caregivers can help and support them.

NCTSN Resource

PFA Mobile

Type: Mobile App

Lets responders review PFA guidelines and assess their readiness to deliver PFA in the field.

NCTSN Resource

PFA: Parent Tips for Helping Adolescents

Type: Fact Sheet

Is a handout from Psychological First Aid Field Operations Guide (PFA). This handout provides parents with common reactions after a disaster, ways to respond to those reactions, and examples of things you can say to your adolescent.

NCTSN Resource

PFA: Parent Tips for Helping Infants and Toddlers after Disasters

Type: Fact Sheet

Is a handout from Psychological First Aid Field Operations Guide (PFA). This handout provides parents with common reactions after a disaster, ways to respond to those reactions, and examples of things you can say to your infants or toddlers.

NCTSN Resource

PFA: Parent Tips for Helping School-Age Children after Disasters

Type: Fact Sheet

Is a handout from Psychological First Aid Field Operations Guide (PFA). This handout provides parents with common reactions after a disaster, ways to respond to those reactions, and examples of things you can say to your school-age child.

NCTSN Resource

Skills for Psychological Recovery (SPR) Online

Type: e-Learning Course

Aims to help survivors gain skills to manage distress and cope with post-disaster stress and adversity. This course utilizes skills-building components from mental health treatment that have been found helpful in a variety of post-trauma situations.

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