Friday, October 17, 2008

Get Ready Mailbag

Q. In the movies, people are always quarantined where there is an outbreak of a contagious disease. If there is a flu pandemic or disease outbreak, will communities be quarantined?

A. A modern-day quarantine would likely look very different than the Hollywood images of scientists in spacesuits and the military forcibly keeping people in their communities. If pandemic flu strikes, public health officials have a more realistic plan in mind.

Let's start with some definitions: "Quarantine" is when people who are not sick but have likely been exposed to a virus are separated from others. These people may be urged to not leave their homes or towns. A related term is "isolation." This is when a person who is already sick is separated from other people to reduce the chances that she or he will get others sick.

Because pandemic flu spreads quickly and you can catch it from others who are sick but don’t show any symptoms yet, quarantine and isolation will probably only play a small role in how communities respond to a disease outbreak. Also, scientists expect restrictive measures to be voluntary, like when a parent is asked to keep a child with chickenpox home from school.

During a flu pandemic, people will be encouraged to stay home from work or school to reduce their chances of getting sick. Schools will be closed and community events cancelled. Sick people will be separated from those who are not — both in health facilities and at home.

Check out this site to learn what items you should include in your preparedness kit in case you ever need to stay home from work or school because of a flu pandemic or anything else that comes your way.

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