No matter where you turn the last couple of days, you’re sure to have heard about the latest potential pandemic – The Swine Flu. I have been guilty of thinking these things won’t affect me, but as I received an email from my mother this morning (she’s still worried about me – love you mom!) it got me to thinking. Below you’ll see a copy of the email she sent me, and really it’s just common sense. I know that for the next days or weeks or months I’ll be continuing to teach my children the importance of washing their hands, and to also prepare for something such as this. Sorry for the rather boring post, but it’s one of those things I think should be shared!
Those of you who were following the news in 1976 may remember reports at that time of a disease known as “swine flu.” An Army recruit stationed at Ft. Dix in New Jersey died, and four of his bunkmates became ill. Two weeks later, health officials announced that the virus in question appeared to be very similar to the one that had caused the deadly Spanish flu epidemic in 1918.
The response at the time was about what you’d expect: declaration of a “public health emergency” and stockpiling of vaccines, enough for a universal immunization program.
As I’m writing you, there are currently 68 reported cases of a new swine flu in this country. No doubt there will be more cases before it’s all over. The official response this time is little different from what we saw in 1976: declaration of a “public health emergency” (but it’s “not a cause for alarm”) and stockpiling of antiviral drugs, enough for universal coverage.
This go-round with swine flu may turn out to be “The Big One,” the pandemic that affects a significant part of our populationâ€”with widespread illness and death. Or it could be nothing more than a popgun, with a few well-publicized cases and no more. Remember SARS? Bird flu? West Nile virus?
My point here is that we just don’t know yet how much of an impact this swine flu will have on our society, and frankly any prediction is purely guesswork on someone’s part. There’s certainly no need for panic, but it’s best not to ignore the situation, either.
Preparing for a Pandemic
More than 15 years ago I began warning about the dangers of epidemics that would start in one isolated part of the world and spread quickly to our doorstep. At the time, I received a considerable amount of flak for making such a prediction. Traveling the world as I have, however, I knew it would only be a matter of time.
The Asian flu of 1957-58 and the Hong Kong flu of 1968-69 were the last big epidemics to hit this country. And, despite public health preparedness efforts, we won’t know what the next epidemic is until we’re already in the middle of it.
One example is the SARS outbreak I mentioned earlier. Because the illness was caused by a virus, there was no definitive treatment. The infected individuals were isolated and given the antiviral drug ribavirin and steroids. Although the infection could become quite serious, most of those who died were already in poor health or had another serious illness. Worldwide, there were more than 2,700 cases, and about a hundred deaths.
For the majority of us, SARS and this outbreak of swine flu should serve as a “blessing in disguise”â€”a textbook example that illustrates a serious problem we need to be prepared for. Like the threat of increased terrorism, potential epidemics need to be addressed.
History has shown time and time again that isolation is one of the best tools to help stop the spread of infectious diseases. In the event of a widespread outbreak of any type of illness, one of the best precautions you can take would be to eliminate or minimize your exposure to the general public. Essentially, you should quarantine yourself as far as is practical.
In the small farming communities where I was raised, everyone seemed to have a stocked pantry full of homemade canned goods and cases of food from sales at the Piggly Wiggly. It amazes me nowadays that when some 24- or 48-hour crisis occurs, everyone empties the local grocery stores.
Self-quarantining (the more current term is “shelter-in-place”) would require that you have on hand at least a limited supply of necessities such as food, water, toiletries, medications, supplements, et cetera. If you haven’t done so already, now is definitely the time to prepare to meet any future challenges.
You should have at least enough nonperishable and canned items to be able to get through a couple of weeks without having to leave home. If you have necessary medications or take supplements, it’s not unreasonable to keep a three-month supply on hand. Just make sure to rotate the items as you continue to purchase new supplies each month.
For various respiratory threats I would suggest keeping a small supply of fiber surgical masks around. Dousing them with several drops of eucalyptus oil goes a long way toward both preventing and treating respiratory infections. Type N95 masks cost a dollar or less each and offer improved filtering power against bacteria and other pathogens. Keep a few on hand for everyone in the family. You can find the masks in many pharmacies or at any medical supply house or on the Internet. While you’re shopping, include a box of surgical gloves as well.
Many people, me included, feel that it’s only a matter of time before we see the next pandemic. I don’t believe it’s a matter of whether an outbreak will occur, it’s just a matter of when and what disease. My intent in sharing this information is not to frighten or create a feeling of hopelessness, but I do think it’s a threat that you and your family need to be aware of and prepare for.
It’s a good policy to expect the best but prepare for the worst. And, as my dad has always said, it’s cheap insurance. Whether you’re fighting off the first symptoms of a cold or flu virus, or you find yourself in the midst of a spreading pandemic, being forewarned, aware, and ready will make a big difference for your (and your family’s) chances of good health and survival.
Dr. David Williams