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December 04, 2006


Cathy Arnst

I just got back from a two-day conference at Harvard University on bird flu, and here's what I learned: be afraid, and be prepared. Granted, the semi-hysterical media coverage of bird flu from a year or so ago has died down and the numbers of human deaths from the virus (153 worldwide so far) has slowed to a trickle. Reports in recent months that the spread of the virus among chickens in some Asian countries has been halted made it seem as though the there is little to worry about. But according to the experts at this meeting, there is plenty to worry about. Speaker after speaker warned that, when it comes to a flu pandemic, its not a question of if, but when.

Those warnings are based on the fact that every 30 years of so, for centuries, a new strain of influenza virus has swept the globe, killing millions. Some of these pandemics have been relatively mild, such as the one in 1967 that killed about 7 million people worldwide, and some, like the 1918 Spanish flu outbreak, have been horrible--anywhere from 20 to 50 million people died over two years.

The H5N1 virus that has decimated chicken flocks in Asia over the last few years has yet to evolve into a form that can directly infect people, and it may never. In which case another strain will likely emerge that can. Federal, state and local communities should all have a pandemic flu plan in place, and of course, some do and lots don't. The Seattle pandemic flu plan was held up by several speakers as one of the best, and it's well worth checking out that city's flu web site for guidance to get an idea of what your community should be doing.

The conference also brought home how important it is for individual households to be prepared for all sorts of emergencies. Stocking up on canned foods, bottled water, batteries and face masks doesn't take a lot of effort, and can buy considerable peace of mind. Also, take the time to teach your children preventive measures -washing hands with soap and warm water frequently, never drinking out of someone else's glass, covering your face when you sneeze. For all the information you'll ever need on avian flu, check out the federal government's pandemic flu web site. And for some immediate ideas on what you can do, keep reading. I'm not trying to be a fear-monger, but as anyone in Louisiana can tell you, sometimes the worst does happen.

From the Health and Human Services web site,

Stay Healthy

Will the seasonal flu shot protect me against pandemic influenza?

No, it won't protect you against pandemic influenza. But flu shots can help you to stay healthy.

Get a flu shot to help protect yourself from seasonal flu.

Get a pneumonia shot to prevent secondary infection if you are over the age of 65 or have a chronic illness such as diabetes or asthma. For specific guidelines, talk to your health care provider or call the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Hotline at 1-800-232-4636.

Make sure that your family's immunizations are up-to-date.

Take common-sense steps to limit the spread of germs. Make good hygiene a habit.

Wash hands frequently with soap and water.

Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze.

Put used tissues in a waste basket.

Cough or sneeze into your upper sleeve if you don't have a tissue.

Clean your hands after coughing or sneezing. Use soap and water or an alcohol-based hand cleaner.

Stay at home if you are sick.

It is always a good idea to practice good health habits.

Eat a balanced diet. Be sure to eat a variety of foods, including plenty of vegetables, fruits, and whole grain products. Also include low-fat dairy products, lean meats, poultry, fish, and beans. Drink lots of water and go easy on salt, sugar, alcohol, and saturated fat.

Exercise on a regular basis and get plenty of rest.

02:15 PM


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There are some other helpful sites about bird flu and pandemic preparation, including the extent that societies can be disrupted in a worst case scenario.

Chief among them is the Flu Wiki (, of which I am an editor. No hype, just helpful info compiled by thousands of volunteers. All the pandemic plans from all over the world are there, for example, as are data from WHO in tracking the current H5N1 problem.

We are linked by many local and state health departments, and are not a substitute for but are a supplement, See the CDC's review, e.g.

Posted by: DemFromCT at December 4, 2006 04:14 PM

May I add an additional way to prepare for the inevitable pandemic (or storm, hurricane, etc)

Prepare for shortages of essential goods ie food, water, medications, energy for heating, cooking, gasoline for the car. Try to work up to at least a 2 week supply of food and water and other essentials ie diapers, forumla, medications.

30-40% of sick employees translates to less of everything being available, including health care. Don't forget some OTC medications and a thermometer.

Posted by: Grace RN at December 4, 2006 10:34 PM

Oh, man, one more thing to add to my worry list! I was really freaked about this last year, but as media coverage went down, so did my freak-out level. You have officially raised it back up again. I guess I better add bottled water, batteries, etc. to my next grocery list.

Susan @ Working Moms Against Guilt

Posted by: Susan at December 5, 2006 12:19 AM

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