Bird flu is coming, what will you do?

I know, another kook screaming “the sky is falling”, but before you dismiss this as another insane rant ask yourself this question; If the threat does not exist then why has the Center for Disease Control (CDC) dedicated an up-to-date web site to the issue? See for yourself www.cdc.gov/flu/avian. Enough said.

A quick history on pandemic flu.

In March of 1918 the “Spanish Flu” first reared its ugly head and by June of 1920 between 20 to 100 million people worldwide had been killed. That equates to between 2.5 to 5% of the world population at the time, double the casualties of World War II. Stated in another way it was close to the entire population of the United States in 1920. The mortality rate approached 50%. That means 1 out of every 2 people that contracted the disease died. That strain was the H1N1 strain.

Fast-forward about 89 years and the Avian Flu is now making a resurgence in Asia and Europe. The latest incarnation is the H5N1 strain. Since November of 2003 there have been 400 reported cases in humans and numerous outbreaks in the avian population. The only saving grace thus far has been the lack of communicability between humans but experts agree it is only a matter of time before the virus makes that leap.

The downside:

The world is a much smaller place in 2009 than it was in 1918. International travel is not limited to steamships. Urban centers are considerably more populated, more congested and more numerous. Succinctly put; an outbreak would be global before the first victims were felled and the number of fatalities would be staggering.

Adding fuel to the fire is the fact that there is no comprehensive vaccine and the vaccine that does exists is not commercially available. The vaccine is being stockpiled by the government in case of outbreak and guess what? It’s not for you. The vaccine will be distributed to first responders and public health workers. Sorry.

Another log in the fire is the fact that three of the four current anti-viral drugs are ineffective as H5N1 is showing resistance. The picture has taken on a slightly darker hue. No vaccine and no effective treatment; its not looking good is it?

What can you do to protect yourself? The truth is not much if you wait to the last minute. The only weapons at your disposal are awareness and planning. Pay attention to the news, or lack thereof. In the 1918 outbreak the government down played the severity. It is likely they would do the same now if faced with the stark news that a pandemic was imminent. You have to watch for the signs. The CDC site has good current information on outbreaks overseas and should be a site that you frequent. At least until it is shut down.

Plan your course of action. Your first priority if you live in an urban center is to get out. The large cities would become deathtraps (this is true in any large scale disaster). Local hospitals would quickly become overwhelmed and little more than large morgues. The breakdown of centralized control would be inevitable as law enforcement and fire rescue fell victim as well. Know where you would escape to before you need to escape.

Once you escape to a more rural setting your primary concerns are two-fold. Limit contact with others outside your inner circle and find adequate sources of food and water. As a Floridian I am used to this drill with the constant threat of hurricanes. It is not unusual for me to keep 3 or 4 weeks worth of food on hand in the form of MRE’s and dry goods. You should also have basic medical supplies handy. If you plan ahead you will have these things with you, if not you will be reduced to foraging in a hostile environment (remember resources will be limited).

Wait and watch. There is no way of predicting the length and severity of a pandemic. There is no way of predicting the government response either but for those of you who place your hopes of salvation in the federal government I offer a one word rebuttal; Katrina.

Katrina, as devastating as it was, was a fairly localized and minor event when contrasted with the enormity of a global pandemic. Think of Katrina as a small scale test of our government’s emergency response in a disaster. In that test we learned how completely inept and inadequate the local, state and federal governments are in an emergency. Do you want to place your life, the life of your family, in the hands of such incompetence?

The bottom line is this; if you want to survive you have to depend on yourself. You have to realize that the threat exists and plan ahead. If you are dependant on the government your fate is a foregone conclusion. We will miss you.

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