updated 1/6/2006 12:12:26 AM ET 2006-01-06T05:12:26

Bracing for a possible flu pandemic, the government is urging people to prepare to teach their kids at home, chart family members’ blood types and allergies and find out in advance if they will be able to work from their house.

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A pandemic can hit in waves and last for months, the government warns in a guide for families that was being released Friday.

“Preparation will bring peace of mind and the confidence that we are ready to fight a flu pandemic,” according to the guide.

Some tips will sound familiar, echoing what people are told before a hurricane or a blizzard strikes. For example, the government suggests stocking a supply of water and nonperishable food and prescription drugs. The guide asks people to volunteer with local groups to assist with emergency response.

The guide also suggests ways to stop the spread of disease, including simple steps such as frequent hand washing and staying at home if you are sick. “Cough or sneeze into your upper sleeve if you don’t have a tissue,” the guide advises.

Because schools may be closed for long periods in a pandemic, the government advises parents to be prepared to teach their children at home. People should consider, too, how to get around because transportation might be disrupted.

The guide recommends keeping a chart with basic medical information about family members.

“I know we have one at home. In reading this, I frankly was reminded that we ought to update it,” said Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease specialist at Vanderbilt University’s medical school.

Schaffner, who was not involved in preparing the guide, said it sets a proper tone and should not cause alarm.

He particularly liked the suggestion about forming support systems — people to be relied upon in an emergency. But he said the guide did not emphasize some things he believes are important and said a few suggestions did not sound feasible for most people.

“Some just evoke a quiet smile,” he said. “For example, plan for the possible reduction or loss of income if you’re unable to work or your place of employment is closed. My response to that is, ‘Great. That’s hard to plan for, for the average American.”’

Schaffner said it would have been prudent to include a warning to stop smoking, a risk factor for pulmonary infection, on a list of ways to stay healthy. “Stopping smoking is something I think I would have put right at the top of the list,” he said.

The guide does tell people to eat a balanced diet and to exercise regularly. Schaffner said it could have been more pointed in warning people that obesity can make it more difficult to fight off an infection.

Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt planned to release the guide Friday while meeting in Arizona with state officials and community leaders. In the coming months, the department plans similar meetings in every state.

Fears of a pandemic have arisen from the spread of bird flu, a virus that health officials fear could mutate into a form easily passed between humans.

The virus has killed 74 people — mainly farm workers in close contact with fowl from Vietnam, Thailand and Indonesia — according to end of the year figures from the World Health Organization.

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