Editors Note: With the Mexican swine flu making headlines, a trip this weekend found my local drug store had nearly run out of surgical masks – if you haven’t already made preparations, it’s certainly the time to do it while supplies are still available. This is an article that was written toward preparing for the avian flu, but the fundamentals are the same for both
I wrote about this a couple of months back – being in Asia when the SARS outbreak happened probably makes me a bit more paranoid, but with it spreading widely in Europe now, it seems just a matter of time. This is what a recent USA Today article recommends:
Food: Items that can be eaten without cooking (in case the power is out), such as peanut butter and crackers; canned meat, fish, fruits and vegetables; baby food and formula; dry cereals; protein bars; beverages; and a manual can opener.
Medical needs: Prescription medicines such as glucose and blood pressure monitoring equipment; anti-diarrhea medicines; a thermometer; and fluids with electrolytes (such as Gatorade or Pedialyte). Stock up on personal needs such as toilet paper, baby diapers, feminine supplies and hand-washing supplies.
Activities: Home-learning supplies, in case schools are closed, and toys, books, games and DVDs to keep people occupied.
Other supplies: Flashlight, portable radio, batteries, trash bags, bleach, paper towels and matches.
and what I previously recommended:
1. Buy a good supply of surgical masks: You can get these at your local drug store or home improvement store. Once the outbreak happens, there will be a run on these at your local stores and they soon won’t be available. Supply and demand will cause their prices to rise quite a bit in second hand markets like ebay. How do I know? That is exactly what happened in Japan when the SARS outbreak occurred.
The masks are not so much for preventing people from coughing directly in your face as keeping your hands away from your nose and mouth. The virus is much more likely to be transmitted as follows than you getting coughed on directly in the face:
— Someone with the virus touches his nose getting the virus on his hand
— He opens a door leaving the virus on the door knob
— You opened the same door after him getting the virus on your hand
— you unconsciously touch your nose contracting the virus
Which brings us to number
2. Get in the habit of washing your hands regularly: As a former teacher with lots of kids running around with runny noses, you learn to wash your hands constantly to make it through the school year without getting sick. If you have kids, get them in the habit of washing their hands several times a day (the more the better). Once the flu comes, if they aren’t in the habit of washing their hands often already, you aren’t going to be able to teach them in that short period of time.
3. Wash thoroughly: From what I’ve read, bacterial soap in itself won’t kill the flu virus, but the main reason to wash you hands isn’t to kill it.
“The soap isn’t meant to kill the bug, its purpose is to make your hands slippery, so the virus slides off under water.”
That means taking the time to wash hands thoroughly so all the virus slips off.
4. When the outbreak occurs, change your habits: You’re not going to be able to lock yourself inside when the outbreak occurs since it will last a full season (several months), but avoiding crowds will be a good habit to get into. Crowds are always an easy place for the flu to spread. If you have kids with play groups or other activities, you’ll want to consider cancelling them for a season.
5. Get the vaccine immunization when available: I doubt the government will have enough medication to go around when the flu outbreak occurs and the limited supplies they have will go to high risk patients (elderly, children, those with compromised immune systems, etc). The fact is, antibiotics don’t work on the flu virus (they work on bacteria), so there is little the doctor can do once you get sick. Since the virus will be totally new, even the drugs that doctors think may help in reality may or may not, so you don’t want to count on these (thus prepare not to get it in the first place). Once the virus is identified, however, they will culture it to make a vaccine. As soon as that vaccine is ready and available, get immunized with it.
While nobody hopes that this happens, experts say it’s only a matter of time – if not this avian flu, then some other. Preparing and stocking up now will not only better your chances of avoiding the flu all together, preparation will save you a lot if prices spike due to panic.
More on the bird flu from the personal finance arena:
From Mapgirl’s Fiscal Challenge: Washing Your Hands Saves You Money