An epidemic occurs when a disease infects many people at the same time. A pandemic is the spread of an epidemic between many countries. The most likely cause of a pandemic in New Zealand is a new strain of influenza (‘the flu’), as seen in 1918-19 when over 8500 people died.
A pandemic would impact on all services as many people would need to stay away from others and businesses may be temporarily closed by health officials to stop the disease spreading. Emergency services, food distribution, power and telecommunications would all be affected during a pandemic.
Preparing for a pandemic
Have a plan and be prepared in case you need to stay at home during a pandemic. You and your family may be so sick that you cannot leave the house for several weeks. Keep contact details for friends, family and neighbours so you can call them if you need help.
Before a pandemic
- Vaccinate yourself and your family annually against infectious diseases
- If notified of a potential pandemic keep at least a week's supply of food, tissues and medicines so you don’t need to make trips out in public
- Think about who could look after extended family members if they don’t live nearby
- Reduce germs in your home and workplace by regularly disinfecting common surfaces such as phones, remote controls, door knobs, light switches, toys and computers
- Prepare for disruptions to essential services like food distribution as people are unable to go to work
During a pandemic
- Follow instructions and advice of health officials
- Cover your mouth when coughing or sneezing. Do so into the crook of your elbow rather than your hand. Use tissues, dispose of them properly, and then wash your hands
- Wash your hands after coughing and sneezing, wiping children's noses, preparing food and eating, going to the toilet, or looking after sick people. Do so for at least 20 seconds-with soap or alcohol gels and, if possible, warm water, and dry thoroughly before preparing or eating food
- Maintain a personal space of least one metre from those who may be ill to avoid infection
- Stay home if you become ill
- Consider working from home
More information on Pandemics
Visit the Pandemic planning and response section on the Ministry of Health's website.