Consumer Information

A History of Pandemics (and How to Prepare for Them)

history of pandemics

We are knee-deep in a frightening pandemic. Just the same, while caution is demanded, this is far from the worst we have endured.

It is quite mild compared to the death toll we have endured in the past. Perhaps some have an agenda for fanning fear. That is plain.

Natural pandemics have occurred often enough to gauge the true human cost and separate fact from fiction.

I am not downplaying the personal cost of the present illness. Pandemics are neither good nor evil, but a force of nature and have caused immense human suffering.

They have often occurred after a time of war and caused more ravages than the war itself.

Pandemics attack the weak, sick, elderly and children. But the influenza outbreak of 1919 killed many young and healthy adults as well.

A true pandemic is a widespread outbreak of a deadly disease that causes sickness among a large part of the population.

Some of the fear of pandemic is the result of an overactive imagination and thrill-seeking news reports. Just the same, the danger is real.

Let’s look at a bit of history and gauge the threat and take some comfort in the storms we have weathered.

Note to the reader: I wrote this report six years ago as part of a “Doomsday” project. This updated version of the report covers the history of pandemics and the stages to be prepared for. We are well along in the stages, so keep that in mind.

Early American Pandemics

Among the first pandemics in America were smallpox outbreaks associated with Europeans settling in America.


During the early 1600s, entire Native American tribes were eradicated by disease. Estimates run as high as 70 percent lethality among some tribes.

They simply had no immunity. This is a reason Ebola is so feared today, as few in North America have any immunity and even in Africa the outbreaks are often deadly.

Yellow Fever

In another deadly pandemic, refugees from the Caribbean brought yellow fever to Philadelphia.

In the past, seaports were the center of infectious outbreaks much as airports may be today.


“Yellow fever” is called so because of the color of the skin. The skin is yellowed, terrible fever and vomiting of blood is another sign of yellow fever.

Two thousand died during this epidemic. It was a terrible season for America.


Among the most disturbing incidents occurred in Haiti, when those sent to rescue those in peril added to the death toll.

There are claims the United Nations was negligent in this affair.

According to Haiti government sources, Nepalese peacekeepers allowed human waste from their camp to contaminate a nearby water supply.

This strain of cholera had not been seen in North America, although a particularly bad outbreak of a different breed in the 1850s had killed some 150,000 Americans.

A sewage tank in the Nepalese base leaked into the Artibonite River. Floods and poor sanitary conditions contributed.

The soldiers carrying the disease, by all reports, were not sick, so had immunity. At least 8,300 Haitians died from the disease and some hundreds of thousands were infected.

This is a tremendous amount of infection from a solidly identified point of origin. That is why proper sanitation and cleanliness is so important during an emergency.

Spanish Flu

Just after World War I, among the deadliest pandemics struck much of the world.

Sometimes called the Spanish Flu epidemic, this pandemic struck areas already ravaged by war. More than 675,000 died in America within a few months.

More than 20 million died worldwide. Not only the elderly were felled, but many young and healthy individuals died in this pandemic.

Many health professionals were still returning from Europe or being mustered out of the Army.

Many had volunteered for Allied service before the war, others paid the ultimate price.


President Franklin Delano Roosevelt was crippled by polio. A viral disease, polio affects the nervous system.

A high point in the disease impact came in the 1940s and 1950s with terrible outbreaks that seemed to travel from one city to the other. Towns were quarantined.

The peak outbreak came in 1952, when 58,000 cases and 3,145 deaths were reported. Polio has not been reported since 1979, but stands as an example of what a pandemic can do.

God Bless Jonas Salk and his work on the polio vaccine.

polio - FDR - pandemics history
President Franklin Delano Roosevelt was crippled by polio.


AIDS or HIV was first documented in 1981. This has been a long-lasting disease with terrible consequences. A

IDS remains the sixth-deadliest disease as far as fatalities go in North America. Most victims are aged 25-44.

Once regarded as a sexually transmitted disease, the AIDS virus has been spread by needles and from mother to newborn.

Blood transfusions have been blamed for the spread of AIDS and measures were put in place to stop this problem.

AIDS is responsible for the array of questions asked for those contributing during blood drives.

How To Prepare for Pandemics

You can do little to personally prevent a pandemic outbreak, but you can prepare yourself and your family to reduce the effect of such outbreaks.

First, be certain that every family member is up to date on vaccinations.

As Bethany H., a professional, told the author, some diseases that were once under control are up 15 percent because of a lack of parental vaccinations.

You cannot be too careful, particularly in today’s global economy. The world is smaller than ever. During the 1918 epidemic, many stores closed because so much of the staff was sick.

As many as 40 percent of the doctors and nurses in major cities were too sick to work. This created a giant bottleneck in health care.

Remaining healthy and fit is a great aid, although, as the 1918 outbreak shows, a virulent bug is no respecter of persons.

The young and fit—many of them soldiers—became ill and died.

But are things to do that will lessen the chances of infection and get you up and running as quickly as possible. Here are a few of them:

  • Have any medicines you need, prescription or otherwise, on hand. Replenishment may be limited to nonexistent.
  • Have cash on hand. A true pandemic may limit access to the bank.
  • Use hand sanitizer and strong soap. This is never a bad idea, but when someone is infected, becoming infected yourself is combated by washing the hands often. Use plenty of hand sanitizer as well.
  • Drink plenty of water. You may suffer interrupted supply and drinking water is essential to get through an illness or emergency. The water supply itself may be contaminated.
  • Have plenty of cereal, pasta and rice on hand. Staples is the word. Canned fruits and vegetables are essential. This is cheap insurance and healthy stock to get through the pandemic.
  • Have your bug-out bag ready.
  • First-aid kits! The hospital will be overflowing with the ill. You must be able to care for yourself. Those that go to the hospital for a head cold will be ill-prepared for an emergency.
  • Be certain to have a portable radio with extra batteries on hand. Movement and avoidance of stricken areas demand good information. You do not wish to move to an area worse off than your own.
  • Purchase masks for use when out of the home during an epidemic. Remember, if you become sick yourself, especially wear the mask to prevent infecting other family members.
  • Get a survival plan. Most agencies, job sites and schools have some type of emergency plan. Be certain to be familiar with the plans of the places directly impacting your own survival plans.
Pandemics History: First Aid
Versatile gear is always important. With the hospitals full, the author’s emergency surgery kit is good to have. If you are able to use it.

How to avoid becoming sick in the midst of pandemics:

  • Avoid those that are sick and the most heavily infected areas.
  • If you become sick, stay home. Do not risk further travel.
  • Take simple precautions such as a mask and covering your mouth when you cough and your nose when you sneeze.
  • Use hand sanitizer liberally and keep your hands clean.
  • Avoid touching your face with your hands if possible. This is a sure way to spread infection.
  • Maintain a high level of health and drink plenty of water.

What Is ‘Quarantine,’ Exactly?

While quarantine has a negative connotation, among many the need to isolate infected individuals is very real. In a quarantine situation, measures are taken that are not easily taken at home.

As an example, reusable bed sheets and towels are not used in favor of disposable products. Bedpans are not reused and the items that have come into contact with the infected are incinerated.

Most often, the bodies of the dead are also incinerated.  Consider these measures for sanitation in the home.

Treatment of pandemics isn’t hopeless, as recent Ebola results in America have shown. In America, three out of four patients have survived with immediate treatment.

Hundreds of hundreds of others have been quarantined. However, hundreds of health care officials were able to concentrate upon a single patient.

With electrolyte solutions, antibiotics and constant care, many pandemics aren’t always fatal. But these steps are needed to allow survival.

Also, most of the infected in America for the Ebola cases mentioned above were all relatively young, in good health, and had strong immune systems.

The prognosis would be much less positive for the elderly or those in less robust health.

A stunningly high portion of the American populace is obese and out of shape. This would indicate a high mortality rate if an Ebola outbreak occurred again.

Poor hygiene is blamed for the spread of the virus in Africa.

Some of the hospitals lacked proper staffing and supplied. They were unable to separate the doctors and nurses from the disease and the infection spread quickly.

Clean water and food would be essential in order to survive such an outbreak.

You really need stores in the home, because mandated home quarantine known as shelter-in-place may be instituted. (Like it already has.)

Unfortunately, there is also a point at which the caregiver must decide if further care is useful or simply prolonging the agony of the disease.

Damage to the organs and profuse bleeding are the end signs that indicate that recovery is improbable to impossible.

A means of disposing of waste and clothing of the infected individual is also needed.

An all-metal trash bin and fire is one idea, but this isn’t simply the burning of leaves; all waste material must be combusted in order to properly stop the disease.

Pandemics History: Food
Emergency food supplies are a must for any emergency, including pandemics. Hopefully, you have the gear squared away before the emergency.

The Stages of a Pandemic

The stages of a pandemic are much the same as any other emergency, but each stage must be understood.

1. The Preparation Stage

Preparation is the first hurdle. We must prepare for something we hope will never occur (or for additional stages). Yet, we see the ravages inflicted upon those that are unprepared.

You must first convince yourself that the risk is real. I have done my part with this report and, frankly, I have seriously upgraded my own preparation.

The least reliance upon the outside, the better. Making contingency plans are important.

We do not get along with home insurance, fire insurance or life insurance if we care about our family, and disaster plans are important as well.

The better the preparation, the fewer negatives to deal with when the disaster strikes. The scope of the preparation may depend upon resources, but you are taking the first step by studying this report.

You should have on hand the basics of life: food and water. The shelter should be secure. Whatever weapons, however, minimal, may be important during this type of outbreak.

There are always desperate people, but there are more that use such an emergency as an excuse to loot, rape and destroy.

Make an appraisal of your readiness. Some will be more ready than others; others will be starting from nothing.

It isn’t all about the things we have on hand; it is about learning to use them.

Having equipment and supplied you do not know how to use is like having a Harley Davidson in the barn you have not ridden, just in case you get to get somewhere quickly.

2. The Warning Stage

Sometimes, a disaster arrives with very little warning, but others have days of warning precipitating the actual emergency.

How quickly you recover from the emergency will depend upon how well you have prepared.

If you are warned, have collected together good gear, and you are prepared to take action, your survival quotient goes up. Technology tells us when storms are closing in.

As regards to a pandemic, only good information and attention to details in the news will give us a warning. I watch the news, but not as often as my wife.

She is a great early warning system. Someone in the home should do so. I would rather be writing or doing research, or going through the library of a great teacher that recently passed.

These things keep me fascinated with life.  But I must remain alert to the things going on around me. We cannot go through life asleep.

3. The Pandemic Stage

In the third stage of the pandemic, we weather the actual impact of the event.  At this stage, the normal routine is over and the event is occurring, your plans and contingencies are in place.

At this point, you must be ready for the event. No matter how well prepared you are, the impact will be horrific as people become sick and die.

You will see terrible things on television, providing service isn’t interrupted.

At this point, your will power and resolve must override the fear and you must take the actions that will prevent your affliction and save your family.

Others will be waiting for help from government agencies that may never arrive. Sometimes, warnings are not heeded.

Other times, such as during the action in New Orleans during Katrina, a corrupt and ineffective local and state government results in unnecessary tragedy.

The governor cried and called the situation hopeless. Obviously, my favorite city in the United States recovered. The survival mindset becomes important. Think clearly and think a few steps ahead.

4. The Aftermath

This is the part we all wish to live to see!

During the aftermath, there is a realization that the pandemic may have ran its course. This is a dangerous period, as complacency (such as abandoning procedure) may lead to infection.

It is much the same as continuing to take an antibiotic prescription after the obvious symptoms are gone. Keep the guard up. There is immediate chaos and indecision among the population in this stage.

You must remain firm in your precautions. If the pandemic has been extensive, there is considerable danger of infection for many weeks after the end of the worst period.

The aftermath will involve life-changing events if the pandemic has been widespread. Facilities and agencies will be operating with a fraction of the staff they had before in the event of a true pandemic.

Preparedness really counts at this stage. Your stores of food and water will be important.

At this point, you have survived and you are healthy. You need to avoid everyone that is suspect of infection. The infection may not be obvious.

This simply means the means for self-quarantine. There is that word again and it is a good one for this type of situation.

Hopefully, you have been frugal and have at least a month’s expenses stored away, because you will not be going to work.

katrina tragedy - pandemics
Sometimes, such as during the action in New Orleans during Katrina, a corrupt and ineffective local and state government results in unnecessary tragedy. This is especially true for pandemics.

More Precautions

I am going to stress again that you must have your preparations at home that are needed—you will not be able to obtain them later.

Panic buying will be rampant and stores will be closed. Prices will increase because manufacturers and retailers can’t keep up with demand.

Many people do not believe these things will happen in America and, as a result, they are helpless when such things happen. They unnecessarily expose themselves to danger.

Attempting to go to a store as one example may provide an opportunity for infection and bring on the death rattle before the battle has really begun.

Remember, every known disease has an incubation period. The clerk, peace officer or doctor that appears normal and goes about his daily business normally may be in that 3-5 day viral incubation period.

Per my best research, COVID-19 has an estimated incubation range of one day to two weeks, with an average of five days.

When you consider the needs of quarantine—and quarantine is simply isolation from disease—be certain that the area in which the quarantine occurs is well ventilated.

Air flow in the home should be good, ideally with an open window in the sleeping quarters in which air flows out of the home.

You must have sufficient stores and avoid using these stores before the actual emergency.

It is good to rotate stores (off with the old and in with the new), but the water taken to the kid’s soccer game from stores must be replaced.

The same for food storage. You should keep on hand at all times at least five gallons of bleach per person in the home to fight infection.

Bleach really kills viruses and bacteria and should be understood. The N95 mask is vital as well. Plenty of antibacterial soap should be on hand as well as aggressive hand wipes.

Also, at least 100 trash bags and 25 pounds of lime per person should be on hand for emergency sanitation.


Pandemics are a horrible episode that has caused terrible human suffering in many parts of the world.

When it comes to America, we hope for the best and prepare for the worst. These steps and mindsets are what will carry the day.

Most of all, do not sit and think about it. Get started today!

How do you prepare for the unknown? How are you handling the current coronavirus pandemic? Let us know in the comments below.

About the Author:

Bob Campbell

Bob Campbell’s primary qualification is a lifelong love of firearms, writing, and scholarship. He holds a degree in Criminal Justice but is an autodidact in matters important to his readers. Campbell considers unarmed skills the first line of defense and the handgun the last resort. (He gets it honest- his uncle Jerry Campbell is in the Boxer’s Hall of Fame.)

Campbell has authored well over 6,000 articles columns and reviews and fourteen books for major publishers including Gun Digest, Skyhorse and Paladin Press. Campbell served as a peace officer and security professional and has made hundreds of arrests and been injured on the job more than once.

He has written curriculum on the university level, served as a lead missionary, and is desperately in love with Joyce. He is training his grandchildren not to be snowflakes. At an age when many are thinking of retirement, Bob is working a 60-hour week and awaits being taken up in a whirlwind many years in the future.

Published in
Black Belt Magazine
Combat Handguns
Rifle Magazine
Gun Digest
Gun World
Tactical World
SWAT Magazine
American Gunsmith
Gun Tests Magazine
Women and Guns
The Journal Voice of American Law Enforcement
Police Magazine
Law Enforcement Technology
The Firearms Instructor
Tactical World
Concealed Carry Magazine
Concealed Carry Handguns

Books published

Holsters for Combat and Concealed Carry
The 1911 Automatic Pistol
The Handgun in Personal Defense
The Illustrated Guide to Handgun Skills
The Hunter and the Hunted
The Gun Digest Book of Personal Defense
The Gun Digest Book of the 1911
The Gun Digest Book of the 1911 second edition
Dealing with the Great Ammunition Shortage
Commando Gunsmithing
The Ultimate Book of Gunfighting
Preppers Guide to Rifles
Preppers Guide to Shotguns
The Accurate Handgun
The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, The Shooter's Log, is to provide information—not opinions—to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (3)

  1. Why don’t we have Jonas Salk day?

    A small battery powered TV is much more useful than a battery powered radio. During the ice storm of ’08, when everything was shut down for a week, radio was about useless for news. It is almost all remote controlled today. A small battery powered TV (get one with a DVD player for entertainment too) would get local news and information.

  2. Many of these diseases are man made and are bio weapons. It’s time to fight the globalists by contacting our representatives and tell them to cease and desist from demanding vaccines which will be worse than the viruses themselves.

  3. My parents and my wife’s parents; or grandparents on both sides; lived through challenging times, though perhaps none as challenging as these. The advice coming from the Great Depression was to always have a month’s supply of food for the household in the pantry.

    It’s something I’ve observed all my life.

    One new thing from today’s scenario is that if you can access a food bank, share what you get with family and friends. And while I don’t really recommend this, when relatives live in places that are resource-constrained but they still can get packages delivered, ship them non-perishable food and supplies. Right now, USPS Priority Mail costs about $3 / lb but that’s cheaper than knowing my out-of-state daughter is starving or otherwise doing without.

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