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What is a pandemic? And how do I prepare?

Understanding a global disease outbreak

Public health emergencies can feel overwhelming and isolating, and it may be difficult to understand how you should respond. Instead of adopting the "wait and see" approach, preparing yourself and your family can make a huge difference when it comes to your comfort, security, and overall peace of mind.

Get important health plan updates regarding coronavirus (COVID-19)

At Wellmark, our top priority is the health and well-being of our members. View important updates and get answers to top questions regarding COVID-19 here Opens New Window.

One of the key themes of any public health emergency or disease outbreak is misinformation. Getting insights and updates from trusted sources is step one to being informed. So, let's start from the top.

What's the difference between an epidemic and a pandemic?

Usually, a disease outbreak, or a sudden rise of confirmed cases in a particular location, is phase one. If the outbreak continues to grow and spreads to a larger population or a region, then it reaches epidemic status. A pandemic occurs when an epidemic spreads to a truly global scale with sustained outbreaks on different continents. However, there aren't precise guidelines to determine when a disease outbreak External Site changes into a new classification.

In the past decade or so, we've seen:

For a disease infection to reach pandemic levels, usually the disease is new to humans (or one that hasn't been seen in humans for a long time), so immunity is low. And because of the scale, there is often a higher rate of deaths and greater economic and social disruption.

What are trustworthy international, national and local resources for outbreak information?

Internationally, the World Health Organization (WHO) External Site monitors disease outbreaks and pulls together resources across borders. It funds and coordinates humanitarian responses and recommends actions External Site to control high-threat infections.

Within the U.S., the Department of Health and Human Services External Site (HHS) leads the overall response. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) coordinates throughout the country and globally External Site to monitor, detect and investigate outbreaks.

In Iowa and South Dakota, the Iowa Department of Public Health External Site and the South Dakota Department of Health External Site help coordinate local responses to disease outbreaks.

What precautions can I take to stay safe?

  • Practice healthy habits. 
    • Cover your nose and mouth when you cough or sneeze (with a tissue or into your elbow/sleeve).
    • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth.
    • Wash hands often with soap and water (or at least 60 percent alcohol-based hand sanitizer) for at least 20 seconds.
    • Stay home if you are sick.
  • Consider a virtual visit. Doctor On Demand External Site® offers virtual visits with board-certified physicians for a number of minor issues, from a run-of-the-mill cold or flu to headaches, skin conditions or bronchitis. Physicians can even prescribe medication, if needed. Virtual visits are a benefit for most Wellmark members when they use Doctor On Demand. But, even if virtual visits aren't covered under your plan, they may still be more affordable than a trip to urgent care. To find out if you have coverage for virtual visits, log in or register for myWellmark® Opens New Window and select "Find Care." 
  • Use BeWell 24/7SMwhich connects Wellmark customers with real people who can help with a variety of health-related concerns no matter the time or day. Just call Eight, Four, Four, Eight, Four, Be Well  24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
  • Consider travel plans, if you have them. Do you have plans to travel to areas of concern listed on the traveler's health CDC resource External Site? Consider if it's necessary or if the trip can be postponed.

If you or a family member thinks they may have been exposed to a disease, please contact local health authorities. If it's an emergency, please seek care immediately.