A significant biological threat is a pandemic, involving a virulent contagion transmitted by animals (bird or insect transmitted viruses) and/or through contact with other people. Outbreaks of such contagions are a growing risk given the intra- and inter-continental mobility of humans. There is a very real and growing threat of a bio-terrorist attack utilizing humans to spread contagions—bio-bombers—terrorist "martyrs" who, instead of strapping on a bomb and detonating themselves in a crowded urban area, become human hosts for virulent strains of deadly contagions. A pandemic can be incited if a cadre of bio-bombers fly into the U.S. legally, and park themselves in major airport hubs around the nation for days, where they can infect others traveling across country with pathogens, symptoms of which may take days to manifest.

Social Disruption May Be Widespread

Plan for the possibility that usual services may be disrupted. These could include services provided by hospitals and other health care facilities, banks, stores, restaurants, government offices, and post offices. Prepare backup plans in case public gatherings, such as volunteer meetings and worship services, are canceled. Consider how to care for people with special needs in case the services they rely on are not available.

Being Able to Work May Be Difficult or Impossible

Find out if you can work from home. Ask your employer about how business will continue during a pandemic. (Business Pandemic Influenza Planning Checklist.) Plan for the possible reduction or loss of income if you are unable to work or your place of employment is closed. Check with your employer or union about leave policies.

Schools May Be Closed for an Extended Period of Time

Help schools plan for pandemic influenza. Talk to the school nurse or the health center. Talk to your teachers, administrators, and parent-teacher organizations. Plan home learning activities and exercises. Have materials, such as books, on hand. Also plan recreational activities that your children can do at home. Consider childcare needs.

Transportation Services May Be Disrupted

Think about how you can rely less on public transportation during a pandemic. For example, store food and other essential supplies so you can make fewer trips to the store. Prepare backup plans for taking care of loved ones who are far away. Consider other ways to get to work, or, if you can, work at home.

People Will Need Advice and Help at Work and Home

Think about what information the people in your workplace will need if you are a manager. This may include information about insurance, leave policies, working from home, possible loss of income, and when not to come to work if sick.

Meet with your colleagues and make lists of things that you will need to know and what actions can be taken. Find volunteers who want to help people in need, such as elderly neighbors, single parents of small children, or people without the resources to get the medical help they will need. Identify other information resources in your community, such as mental health hotlines, public health hotlines, or electronic bulletin boards. Find support systems -- people who are thinking about the same issues you are thinking about. Share ideas.

Be Prepared

Stock a supply of water and food. During a pandemic you may not be able to get to a store. Even if you can get to a store, it may be out of supplies. Public waterworks services may also be interrupted. Stocking supplies can be useful in other types of emergencies, such as power outages and disasters. Store foods that (1) are nonperishable (will keep for a long time) and don't require refrigeration; (2) are easy to prepare in case you are unable to cook; and (3) require little or no water, so you can conserve water for drinking.

See a checklist of items to have on hand for an extended stay at home.

Stay Healthy

The seasonal flu shot won't protect you against pandemic influenza. But flu shots can help you to stay healthy. Get a flu shot to help protect yourself from seasonal flu. Get a pneumonia shot to prevent secondary infection if you are over the age of 65 or have a chronic illness such as diabetes or asthma. For specific guidelines, talk to your health care provider or call the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Hotline at 1-800-232-4636. Make sure that your family's immunizations are up-to-date.

Take common-sense steps to limit the spread of germs. Make good hygiene a habit. Wash hands frequently with soap and water. Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Put used tissues in a waste basket. Cough or sneeze into your upper sleeve if you don't have a tissue. Clean your hands after coughing or sneezing. Use soap and water or an alcohol-based hand cleaner. Stay at home if you are sick.

It is always a good idea to practice good health habits. Eat a balanced diet. Be sure to eat a variety of foods, including plenty of vegetables, fruits, and whole grain products. Also include low-fat dairy products, lean meats, poultry, fish, and beans. Drink lots of water and go easy on salt, sugar, alcohol, and saturated fat. Exercise on a regular basis and get plenty of rest.

Get Informed

Knowing the facts is the best preparation. Identify sources you can count on for reliable information. If a pandemic occurs, having accurate and reliable information will be critical.

Reliable, accurate, and timely information is available at www.pandemicflu.gov. Another source for information on pandemic influenza is the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Hotline at: 1-800-CDC-INFO (1-800-232-4636). This line is available in English and Spanish, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. TTY: 1-888-232-6348. Questions can be e-mailed to inquiry@cdc.gov.

Look for information on your local and state government Web sites. Links are available to each state department of public health at www.cdc.gov/other.html#states. Listen to local and national radio, watch news reports on television, and read your newspaper and other sources of printed and Web-based information. Talk to your local health care providers and public health officials.

As you begin your individual or family planning, you may want to review your state's planning efforts and those of your local public health and emergency preparedness officials. Many of the state plans and other planning information can be found at www.pandemicflu.gov/plan/stateplans.html.