Get prepared for a pandemic or disease outbreak

Disease outbreaks can happen suddenly and without warning, often posing a threat to public health and safety. Causes include extreme weather, infectious diseases, industrial accidents or intentional acts. Outbreaks can be limited to one small community or spread across several countries. 

​What is a pandemic?

A pandemic is the worldwide spread of a new disease. Pandemics have occurred every 10 to 40 years dating back to the 1600s, and likely long before then. There were four pandemics caused by influenza during the last century. From 1918-1919, the Spanish flu killed more than 20 million people worldwide. The most recent influenza pandemic, the swine flu, occurred from 2009-2010. Coronaviruses have also caused global pandemics. Recent coronavirus pandemics include SARS (2002-2004) and COVID-19 (which began in 2019).

What is an epidemic?

An epidemic is the spread of a new disease across a region. One of the worst epidemics in BC history was the 1862 smallpox outbreak, which had a catastrophic impact on Indigenous communities. It resulted in a near-population collapse and dramatically interrupted traditional life and practices.

Stages of a pandemic

In our interconnected world, it may be a very short time between the emergence of a new pathogen and global spread. It’s important to start preparing as soon as you can so you’re ready for future pandemics and remain prepared during the changing circumstances of a pandemic.

Before a pandemic

There are many things we can do in advance to prepare for a pandemic. These tips work best if they are done before one begins, but are also worth doing while a pandemic is underway.

What to do before a pandemic

When a pandemic emerges

Global surveillance systems can detect when a new virus has appeared that could cause a pandemic. You can stay safe by knowing what to expect and where to turn to for information.

When a pandemic emerges 

During a pandemic

A pandemic may last for several years, depending on how long it takes to develop a vaccine and stop the spread of the disease. Staying prepared throughout the pandemic is essential.

What to do during a pandemic

BC Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC)

Events that threaten public health are planned for and managed by the BC Centre for Disease Control. It works with the Ministry of Health, regional health authorities, as well as ambulance, fire and law enforcement to minimize casualties, contain the emergency and to inform the public.

Public Health Alerts

Health alerts, including news about disease outbreaks, can come from several trusted sources across the province. For public health alerts in your area, visit HealthLinkBC.

Pandemic Preparedness Guide (PDF)

Our Pandemic Preparedness Guide takes lessons we’ve learned from COVID-19, and other past pandemics, and explains how to prepare for future pandemics and remain prepared during the changing circumstances of a pandemic. You can download it as a PDF to read offline.

For more information or inquiries about this guide, please contact us at

Pandemic Preparedness Guide (PDF, 7.9MB)