Bird Flu: Personal Preparedness Must Include These 4 Critical Areas

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The recent hurricanes Katrina and Rita have been powerful reminders of how destructive the forces of nature can be, and how preparation for them can mitigate their effects. Avian influenza, commonly referred to as “bird flu,” is a powerful force of nature that we must prepare for-or suffer the potentially devastating health and financial consequences. Bird flu is a viral contagious disease, just like the regular seasonal flu, but it might turn out to be 70 times more deadly. And, because of the nature of the virus, it might be most deadly for healthy children and adults, and pregnant women-just like the so-called Spanish flu of 1918-19 was.

The report of the U.S. National Intelligence Council’s 2020 Project, Mapping the Global Future, identified a global pandemic (an epidemic that is worldwide) as the single most important threat to the global economy. According to Shigeru Omi, regional director of the World Health Organization, “The world is now in the gravest possible danger of a pandemic.” And according to Dr. Robert Webster, a world-renowned influenza researcher at St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee, “We could be heading for a global catastrophe.” Infectious-disease experts have repeatedly warned that it’s not a question of whether a bird-flu pandemic is coming; it’s only a question of when.

Judging from the federal government’s incredibly inadequate response at all levels to hurricane Katrina-which is emblematic of its ineptness in dealing with large national emergencies, its slow and superficial response to bird flu to date, and its lack of leadership on this issue-it is clear that you cannot count on the government to protect you. You must take the initiative to prepare yourself and your family for the coming bird-flu pandemic.

There are four essential areas that you must address to prepare for the bird-flu pandemic: 1) “social distancing”; 2) commodities-including food, 3) personal protective equipment (PPE), and 4) financial preparation. Social distancing refers to your living and work situations when the pandemic strikes. Without going to extremes, you want you and your family to be as far away from other people as possible. Bird flu is just like the regular seasonal flu in that you become infected from other people, not birds. (Although it might be possible to acquire the viral infection from birds, it is much more likely that, if you do become infected, you will have acquired the virus from another person, not a bird.)

The bird-flu virus is extremely contagious; it is transmitted though casual contact with a contagious person (who might not have any symptoms during the first 24 hours of infection), through touching contaminated objects, and through the air. Because of this, you want to stay away from people as much as possible, and that means spending more time at home. Your children will not be at school, they will be home. If your home is on the 73rd floor in an apartment building in New York City, how are you going to avoid other people? You might want to think of an alternative living situation for a few months.

The same principle applies to your work setting. If you can telecommute, that is the best scenario. If you don’t telecommute now, but because of the type of work you do it might be a possibility, discuss it with your employer. If you will have to continue to work closely with others at your job site, what can be done there to help protect you and others from infection? How can policies and procedures be amended to minimize contact with coworkers or customers? Are there hand-washing stations available? What are your employer’s plans for dealing with the coming pandemic? Discuss these and related issues with your employer and coworkers.

The second area that must be addressed is “commodities-including food.” There will be sporadic difficulties manufacturing or producing goods-because workers around the globe will be sick or otherwise absent from work. There also will be supply chain disruptions-both because workers will be sick or otherwise absent from work, and because of regional, national and/or international restrictions on travel. These problems will cause a decrease or the unavailability of most or all of the products we easily have access to now.

Commodities such as soap, toothpaste, toilet paper, and virtually everything you can buy at stores such as Wal-Mart will be difficult or impossible to obtain-for periods of weeks or months at a time. This includes the most important commodity-food. The federal government is always telling us to stock up on emergency supplies for three days. This will not be sufficient preparation for the coming deadly bird-flu pandemic. There will likely be limited food available in stores. In addition, stores are places you want to avoid anyway, because potentially contagious people might be there. Stock up now so that you have sufficient commodities, including food, for a period of months.

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