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Avian Flu: Personal Preparedness Must Include These 4 Critical Areas

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

The US National Intelligence Council’s Project 2020 report, Mapping the Global Future, identified a global pandemic (an epidemic that is worldwide) as the most significant 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 Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee, “we could be heading for a global catastrophe.” Infectious disease experts have repeatedly warned that it is not a question of whether an avian flu pandemic is coming; it’s just a question of when.

Judging by the federal government’s staggeringly inadequate response at all levels to Hurricane Katrina, which is emblematic of its inability to deal with major national emergencies, its slow and perfunctory response to bird flu to date, and its lack of leadership in this matter. 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 next avian flu pandemic.

There are four essential areas you need to address to prepare for the bird flu pandemic: 1) “social distancing”; 2) commodities, including food, 3) personal protective equipment (PPE), and 4) financial readiness. Social distancing refers to your living and working situations when the pandemic occurs. Without going to extremes, you want yourself and your family to be as far away from other people as possible. Bird flu is like regular seasonal flu in that you get it from other people, not from birds. (Although it is possible to get the viral infection from birds, it is much more likely that if you do get infected, you got the virus from someone else, not a bird.)

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

The same principle applies to your work environment. If you can telework, that’s the best scenario. If you’re not telecommuting now, but due to the type of work you do, it could be a possibility, discuss it with your employer. If you will have to continue to work closely with others at your workplace, what can be done there to help protect you and others from infection? How can policies and procedures be modified to minimize contact with co-workers or customers? Are there handwashing stations available? What are your employer’s plans to deal with the coming pandemic? Discuss these and other related topics with your employer and coworkers.

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

Staples like soap, toothpaste, toilet paper, and pretty much anything you can buy at stores like Wal-Mart will be hard or impossible to get, for periods of weeks or months at a time. This includes the most important product: food. The federal government always tells us to stock up on three days’ worth of emergency supplies. This will not be enough preparation for the next deadly bird flu pandemic. There will likely be limited food available in stores. Also, stores are places you want to avoid anyway, because potentially contagious people may be there. Stock up now so you have enough staples, including food, for a period of months.

The third area to address is what is called personal protective equipment (PPE), which you will need to wear, depending on the circumstances. PPE includes special face masks, called N95 respirators, that help prevent inhalation infection of the virus. Remember that avian influenza (“bird flu”) is a highly contagious disease that can be transmitted through the air. The only way to counteract this source of infection is through the use of special N95 respirators. These are disposable face masks that can be worn for up to eight hours.

N95 masks were the type of masks worn by hospital workers during the 2003 Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) pandemic that affected several cities around the world, including Toronto, Canada. Surgical masks or other common face masks, sometimes used when sanding, painting, etc., are not effective.

Other PPE items include disposable latex or vinyl gloves, goggles or face shields, liquid-impervious gowns, and sometimes disposable booties or headgear. Keep in mind that during the pandemic, most people who become infected will need to receive care at home, not in overcrowded and overwhelmed hospitals. This means that caregivers caring for loved ones at home need to be protected from the virus, just like hospital workers who work in hospitals. The only way to be protected is to wear PPE. (Simply washing your hands, the federal government’s top recommendation for home caregivers, won’t be enough.) Once the pandemic begins, the demand for PPE will be enormous and the supplies will be very short, or non-existent. Buy now or suffer the consequences later.

The last area that needs to be addressed before the bird flu pandemic strikes is personal finances. This is an area where governments at all levels have been silent. However, preparing your finances to support yourself and your family during (and after) the pandemic may be the most important area of ​​preparation. Although the bird flu virus is deadly and many of us will get sick, most of us will not die from it; only one or two percent of the population is likely to die. The vast majority will live, but under what circumstances?

Think of Hurricane Katrina, where most people survived, but where millions of thousands are now homeless and underemployed or unemployed. Due to the potentially severe local, national and international economic consequences of the avian influenza pandemic, many of us will suffer financially. Companies around the world will not be able to manufacture or distribute products or provide services. There will be layoffs and some businesses will close completely. At a minimum, people will be out of work for periods of weeks or months. Your child or children, if you have any, will be at home, not at school or daycare. Will that force one parent to stay home from work to care for them? How will you pay your rent or mortgage and your bills in these circumstances?

In Benjamin Franklin he said, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” When it comes to bird flu, preparation can make the difference between life and death, how much you and your family eat, and whether or not you can pay your bills, including your rent or mortgage. The government will not solve these problems for you. Like Smoky the Bear’s warning, “Only you can prevent forest fires.” Only you can take stock of this situation and do something about it. Think about it and then do something about it.

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