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 the potentially devastating health and financial consequences. Avian flu is a contagious viral disease, just like normal seasonal flu, but it can be 70 times more deadly. And, due to the nature of the virus, it could be more deadly to healthy children and adults and pregnant women, just like the so-called 1918-19 Spanish flu was.
The U.S. National Intelligence Council’s Project 2020 report, Mapping the Global Future, identified a global pandemic (a global epidemic) 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 most serious danger possible from 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 incredibly inadequate response of the federal government 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 issue, It is clear that the government cannot be counted on to protect it. You must take the initiative to prepare and prepare your family for the next bird flu pandemic.
There are four essential areas you must address to prepare for the avian flu pandemic: 1) “social distancing”; 2) commodities, including food, 3) personal protective equipment (PPE), and 4) financial readiness. Social distancing refers to your life and work 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 infected from other people, not birds. (Although it is possible to get the viral infection from birds, it is much more likely that if you do get infected, you have acquired 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 after infection), by 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 at home. If your house is on the 73rd floor of an apartment building in New York City, how are you going to 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 telecommute, that’s the best scenario. If you don’t telecommute now, but because of the type of work you do, it could be a possibility, talk to your employer. If you will have to continue to work closely with others in your workplace, what can you do there to help protect yourself and others from infection? How can policies and procedures be modified to minimize contact with co-workers or customers? Are hand washing stations available? What are your employer’s plans to deal with the next pandemic? Discuss these and other related topics with your employer and co-workers.
The second area that needs to be addressed is “commodities, including food.” There will be sporadic difficulties in the manufacture or production of goods, because workers around the world will become ill or will be absent from work. There will also be supply chain disruptions, both because workers will be sick or absent from work and because of regional, national and / or international restrictions on travel. These issues will lead to a decline or unavailability of most or all of the products that we now easily have access to.
Basic products like soap, toothpaste, toilet paper, and just about anything you can buy at stores like 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 always tells us to stockpile emergency supplies for three days. This will not be sufficient preparation for the next bird flu pandemic. Limited food is likely available in stores. Also, stores are places to avoid anyway, because potentially contagious people are there. Stock up now to have enough staples, including food, over a period of months.
The third area to address is so-called personal protective equipment (PPE), which you will have to wear, depending on the circumstances. PPE includes special face masks, called N95 respirators, that help prevent infection through breathing in the virus. Remember that avian influenza (“bird flu”) is a highly contagious disease that can be spread through the air. The only way to counteract this source of infection is by using special N95 respirators. These are disposable face masks that can be worn for up to eight hours.
N95 masks were the type of masks hospital workers wore 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 for sanding or painting, etc., are not effective.
Other items of PPE include disposable latex or vinyl gloves, goggles or face shields, liquid-impervious gowns, and sometimes disposable booties or disposable head caps. Keep in mind that during the pandemic, most infected people will need to be cared for at home, not in crowded and crowded hospitals. This means that caregivers who care for loved ones at home must 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 in-home caregivers, will not be enough.) Buy now or suffer the consequences later.
The last area that needs to be addressed before the bird flu pandemic occurs is personal finances. This is an area in which governments at all levels have been silent. However, preparing your finances to support yourself and your family during (and after) the pandemic may prove to be the most important preparation area. Although the bird flu virus is deadly and many of us will get sick, most of us will not die from it; only one to 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 hundreds of thousands are now homeless, underemployed, or unemployed. Due to the potentially severe local, national and international economic consequences of the avian flu 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 the very least, people will be out of work for periods of weeks or months. Your child or children, if you have them, will be at home, not at school or daycare. Will that force a 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 said: “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” When it comes to bird flu preparedness, it could make the difference between life and death, how much you and your family eat, and whether or not you can pay your bills, including rent or mortgage. The government will not solve these problems for you. Like Smoky Bear’s warning, “Only you can prevent wildfires.” Only you can take stock of this situation and do something about it. Think about it and then do something about it.