12 Must-Have Items to Buy for a Flu Pandemic
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The Covid-19 pandemic is still ongoing, but what about flu? Here's what you should buy to be prepared for future pandemics.
What to buy for a flu pandemic
With the Covid-19 pandemic still ongoing, it’s hard to even contemplate the possibility of another type of pandemic. In fact, many experts would have predicted an influenza virus as the more likely cause of a pandemic—the world-wide outbreak of a new illness—than a new coronavirus, which is what causes Covid-19.
Typically, flu A and B are the two main types that can infect humans (type C only causes mild illness and type D mostly affects animals). For a flu pandemic to occur, there needs to be a global outbreak of a new influenza A virus in people, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
This new flu A virus would be different than the seasonal influenza A viruses that are currently circulating or circulated before in a previous flu season.
Flu pandemics are rare (only four flu pandemics have occurred in the last 100 years), but it’s not unlikely that one will happen again. (This is the strain the flu vaccine misses.)
“It’s important to plan ahead of time,” says Nici Singletary, MD, co-chair of the American Red Cross Scientific Advisory Council. “You need to have the supplies you need when the time comes and avoid a rush.” (Here’s how to avoid getting sick in cold and flu season.)
We’ve learned a lot from the Covid-19 experience. Here’s more guidance on what you should have on hand in the event of another pandemic. (Beware of these flu signs.)
KONQUEST KDT-1201 Best Digital Medical Thermometer
Fever is one of the most common flu symptoms. A thermometer, like the Konquest KDT-1201, can confirm if you actually have a fever, or just feel like you do. It’ll also tell you if the fever’s high enough (over 103 degrees Fahrenheit) to call a doctor, says Natasha Bhuyan, MD, a family practice physician with One Medical in Phoenix.
Don’t spend money on no-touch infrared thermometers, advises Dr. Singletary. “The more accurate thermometers are the oral thermometers that you put under your tongue,” she says. They’re available with digital readouts.
If you have kids, it’s a good idea to have rectal thermometers on hand as well. And if your thermometer runs on batteries, check them periodically to make sure they’re still good. (For more suggestions, check out the best at-home thermometers to monitor coronavirus.)
SereneLife Nitrile Disposal Gloves
Disposable gloves are essential if someone in your home is sick.
“You need them to protect yourself doing the laundry, cleaning up the bathroom,” says Dr. Singletary. She adds, “If you’re using harsh disinfectants, you need to have gloves on.”
ChiSip KN95 Face Mask
Face masks will protect you and others not just from Covid-19, but also from the flu. In fact, the CDC reports that the Southern Hemisphere is having a mild flu season, probably because people are already wearing masks and social distancing to prevent Covid-19. “Masks are effective in reducing the spread of viral respiratory infections,” says Dr. Bhuyan.
The most effective masks are the N-95 masks worn by healthcare professionals, but they’re generally not necessary outside a healthcare setting (and should be reserved for people who need them for that purpose). There is a close cousin for regular people: KN95 masks, like this one ChiSip.
KN95 masks are imported from China and don’t meet the same regulatory standards as N95 masks. “It’s not considered medical grade, but it does fit better than the ones that have a gap on the side where the ear loop is,” says Dr. Singletary.
They’re especially good for women and people who have smaller faces, she adds. Masks with two or more layers—either cloth or woven material like polyester, or paper—are also acceptable. (These are the best face masks with filters.)
Amazon Basic Care Rapid Release Pain Relief, Acetaminophen Caplets
Acetaminophen (Tylenol) is a good fever reliever and is available over-the-counter. Amazon Basic Care carries their own 400-count of 500 mg acetaminophen caplets. Along with other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB), acetaminophen also can reduce the body aches and malaise which sometimes accompany the flu, says Dr. Bhuyan.
Dr. Singletary recommends you have other over-the-counter medications on hand as well. This includes some type of decongestant in case you get stuffed up and a cough suppressant, she says. And check the expiration dates periodically. “They don’t last forever,” she adds. (You may also want to know about top-rated items to include in a home emergency kit.)
Hinotori Weekly Pill Organizer 3-Times-A-Day
Don’t forget to keep a supply of your own prescription medications as well. “The last thing you want to do during a pandemic is to go into the pharmacy to get your medications,” says Dr. Singletary.
Skipping medications, such as blood pressure drugs, could make you sicker at the very time you need to stay healthy. Other essential supplies include glucose monitors and testing strips, which are used by people with diabetes.
AquaOasis Cool Mist Humidifier
$37, 2.2 liter
A humidifier moistens the air in your home, like this one from AquaOasis, can also help break up congestion, especially at night which is when you’re the most stuffed up, says Dr. Bhuyan. Some tips on how to use humidifiers: Choose a cool-mist humidifier (also known as a vaporizer) which doesn’t run the risk of burns, place the unit several feet from your bed not right next to it, and set it to 30 percent to 50 percent humidity so things don’t get too wet.
“Make sure that you are changing the water in the humidifier and that it’s being cleaned regularly,” adds Dr. Bhuyan. “If there’s a filter, change the filters as you’re supposed to.” (Learn more about how to choose the best humidifier for your space.)
Keto Electrolyte Supplement, Salt Replacement Tablets
$15, 60 capsules
Staying hydrated is critical when you’re sick. “People get dehydrated when they have one of these viruses,” says Dr. Bhuyan. Water is good but adding electrolyte salts or drinking Gatorade or another electrolyte-laden beverage like Gatorade or Powerade may be better. Or you can go for salts. “They make powder which you can throw into bottled water,” says Dr. Singletary.
Try SuperSalt’s electrolyte supplement which boasts a 4.5/5 star rating on Amazon with close to 300 reviews. One bottle contains 60 capsules and provides modest amounts of sodium, potassium, copper, zinc, and magnesium to aid in rehydration and recovery. Some signs that you don’t have enough electrolytes can include feeling tired, nausea, and headache.
Adoric Life Manual, Professional Heavy Duty Can Opener
The other basic-survival need, of course, is food. During a pandemic, stores may be closed or, as we learned from Covid-19, have bare shelves. The American Red Cross recommends a two-week supply (at least) of food as well as water. Make the food items easy to open with a can opener like this one from Adoric Life, and choose those that don’t need a lot of preparation like protein bars, peanut butter, nuts, crackers, and canned juices and soups. If you’re sick, you may not feel like cooking, says Dr. Singletary
With or without a pandemic, focus on wholesome foods. “If your health status at baseline is pretty healthy, you’re much more likely to have your own immune system fight this virus successfully,” says Dr. Bhuyan. And don’t forget the pet food. (These are the canned foods nutritionists buy.)
Lysol Disinfecting Spray
$6, 19 fluid ounces
Although the flu virus spreads mostly through person-to-person contact, it also can linger on surfaces, sometimes as long as 24 hours, says Dr. Bhuyan. That’s why it’s so important to clean surfaces like countertops regularly, especially if someone in your house is sick.
Look for a product that says on the label it is effective against influenza, like this Lysol Disinfectant Spray. And make sure it’s at least 60 percent isopropyl alcohol, says Dr. Singletary. Lysol Disinfectant Spray works against H1N1 influenza, according to the company, and it’s one of two products Lysol products that kill coronavirus and is Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)-approved against SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19.
Hydra Pearl Hand Sanitizer Gel – 70% Alcohol
$28, 1 gallon
If you touch a contaminated surface with your hands then touch your face, especially your nose, mouth, or eyes, you could expose yourself to the flu. Although this is less likely to happen than encountering droplets from someone’s sneeze or cough, washing your hands is a key component of flu prevention.
Soap and water is most effective at killing germs, says Dr. Bhuyan. However, hand sanitizer, like this one from Hydra Pearl is a good and easy substitute. It comes with a free 10-ounce empty travel size bottle that you can easily refill using your gallon pump. Look for products that are at least 60 percent isopropyl alcohol, says Dr. Singletary. (These are the best hand sanitizers for dry skin.)
AmazonBasics 360-Piece Plastic Cutlery Set
$15, 360 pieces
Disposable utensils and paper plates will make life a lot safer and a lot easier if anyone in your household is sick. This AmazonBasics cutlery set has a total of 360 pieces, including spoons, forks, and knives. “You can put them carefully into a trash bag and dispose of the trash and wash your hands,” says Dr. Singletary.
YIVIEW Sleep Mask for Women and Men
Rest is a cornerstone of recovery from the flu. “An eye mask will help you get a good night’s sleep,” says Dr. Bhuyan. “Sleep actually impacts our immune system and getting enough rest can help our immune systems fight viruses or other illnesses.” Not only sleep but deep, REM (rapid eye movement sleep).
This YIVIEW sleep mask has a 4.7/5 star rating, more than 6,600 reviews, and comes in a variety of color including black, blue, and purple. Its memory foam material makes it comfortable to leave on for prolonged periods of time for meditation, yoga, travel, or even insomnia. The manufacturer also claims it has 99 percent lightproof performance. (Also, try these best sleeping facial masks for better skin.)
The last word
There have been several significant disease outbreaks in the last few decades. “A lot of research is predicting we might see another pandemic in our lifetime,” says Dr. Bhuyan. “We have to be vigilant as we move forward. Probably the most effective tool we have is taking this seriously.” Being prepared is part of that.
Next, here’s a review on a disaster planning app.
- Nici Singletary, MD, co-chair, American Red Cross Scientific Advisory Council
- Natasha Bhuyan, MD, family practice physician, One Medical, Phoenix
- Dartmouth College: "Pandemic Flu Planning Guidelines and Checklist for Individuals"
- Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report: "Decreased Influenza Activity During the COVID-19 Pandemic — United States, Australia, Chile, and South Africa, 2020"
- Hamilton County General Health District: "Stockpiling for a Potential Influenza Pandemic"
- National Library of Medicine: "Humidifiers and health"
- Cedars-Sinai: "What are Electrolytes?"
- American Red Cross: "Preparing for Disaster During COVID-19"
- Lysol: "Beat the bug: Keep cold & flu germs out of your home"
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "How Is Pandemic Flu Different from Seasonal Flu?"