Monday, 4 May 2009

How To Prepare For Swine Flu

by Melinda Briana Epler, One Green Generation

Last night my family ate dinner in a Mexican restaurant, where the television was tuned to news about swine flu. We watched images of eerily empty public streets in downtown Mexico City, a city normally bustling with activity. My husband and I went there on our honeymoon. What a an amazing city it is, with a rich culture full of wonderful people.

I'm sure most of us have been reading about swine flu on the news, watching the television reports, listening to radio reports. There seem to be three main responses to the possible threat of a global pandemic: fear, humor, or indifference. I admit my mind travels back and forth between all three. And that's ok.

But if you listen closely, you'll hear the same phrase we heard during the avian flu outbreaks in Asia a couple of years ago: "it's not a question of if, but when." There may not be a flu pandemic this spring, there may not be a flu pandemic next winter, but given the way our society works today, there will be a flu pandemic in the not too distant future. I say this not to strike fear, but to remind us all that this is the reality of our world, so that we can take actions to keep our families and friends safe and healthy.

How Do You Prepare?

1. Emotional Preparedness

My graduate thesis project in 2006 focused on how to prepare for a global catastrophe such as a flu pandemic. Above all else, the number one way to prepare for this kind of a possibility is: to be emotionally prepared.

The first thing that happens to most people in a disaster is that your mind doesn't work the way it normally does - you enter into a state of confusion, or sometimes shock. Children and adults both do this. So, what you need to do ahead of time is to prepare your family, and to talk about what you would do if something like this were to happen. Let your children play an active role in this discussion so that they remember it, and so that they aren't fearful.

Before having this discussion, you should do some research about the possible scenarios of a pandemic. Pandemics can be fairly mild, like the 1968-69 Hong Kong Flu, or they can be quite severe, like the 1918 Spanish Flu (which was, incidentally, the H1N1 strain we are seeing in the current cases of swine flu). Don't scare yourself to much when you read about them, but you should know what could happen: life could go on fairly normally, or your city could shut down entirely, or it could be anywhere in between.

Once you know the possibilities, think through the possible scenarios in your head: what would you do? What would you need? How would you get ahold of your family if phone lines were jammed? Who could pick up your children? Where is the nearest hospital? Is there a family member's house that is better suited in an emergency, and could you go there for a while if you needed to?

These are not pleasant thoughts, I know. No one likes to think about the negative things that could happen. But this can save your family's life, and make things a lot easier for everyone if something like a pandemic were to happen.

2. Physical Preparedness

There is a ton of information available about physical preparedness, including some great posts here at the co-op, so I will be brief here.

Since you have now researched what has happened in the past pandemics, you know the possible scenarios. You could end up in a quarantined area for weeks on end. You could have water or electrical lines that don't work - and nobody can come fix them. Banks, schools, hospitals, groceries, gas stations, and public transportation systems all may be closed. Again, not to scare yourself, but simply to know what might happen so you can prepare for it.

Things to do now:
  1. Make sure good hygenic practices are ingrained into your family's routines.
  2. Keep your children home if they are sick, and stay home if you are sick.
  3. Save up enough money to get by on a loss of income for at least a month or two, in case your workplace closes or you are not able to work.
  4. Prepare an emergency contact list of family, close friends, physicians, pharmacies, and veterinarians. Here is a good template to use. Also plan who will take care of your children if you are severely sick - make sure you make solid plans with that person now, just in case.
  5. Keep your gas tank consistently full.
  6. Plant a four-season garden to keep fresh, nutritious foods at home.
  7. Think about each essential service you need as a family (including pets), and store two weeks worth of it in your basement, garage, closet, or cupboard:
  • Non-perishable foods and baby formulas
  • Prescription drugs
  • Vitamins and any non-prescription drugs you take regularly
  • Water - 1 gallon per person per day in clean plastic containers
  • First Aid kit, including pain relievers, fever reducers, cough and cold medicines, fluids with electrolytes, thermometer, and anti-diarrheal medication.
  • A small amount of cash in case ATMs and banks are closed
  • Pet food and litter
  • Portable radio (hand-cranked is best)
  • Alcohol-based hand cleaner
  • Flashlight
  • Batteries
  • Manual can opener
  • Garbage bags
  • Toilet paper, disposable diapers
  • Respirators and/or N-95 masks (the only type of mask that filters airborne pathogens)
  • Vinyl or latex gloves
  • Books, games, crafts, and school supplies
  • Printed out instructions about how to care for someone with influenza at home.

3. Community Preparedness

Remember: "A pandemic would touch every aspect of society, so every part of society must begin to prepare." - Centers For Disease Control.

  1. Work: Plan to work from home as much as possible. Find out from your employer if you can create a telecommuting plan in the event of an emergency. If you work in an essential services field, make sure there is a plan to keep basic services operational, despite the possibility that many workers may not come into work. Help spread information to your co-workers about good hygiene and how to prepare for a pandemic at home.
  2. Neighborhood: The closer-knit your community is, the better off it will be during any kind of emergency. Start getting involved in community-building activities in your neighborhood. Get to know your neighbors, and become involved in your community as it works to prepare for an influenza pandemic. If there aren't any groups creating a community plan, start one!
  3. School: Find out what your school's plans are for a pandemic event. If they don't have a plan, help them create one. Encourage other parents to keep children at home if they are sick. Get together with other parents to find ways to continue children's learning if schools are closed - can you create a Plan B Online learning system, for example, with a few teachers teaching online?
Above all else, STAY INFORMED. Knowing the facts - not the fears, not the indifference - is the key to preparation. Reliable, updated information can be found at the following websites:

Or you can call:
  • US: 1-800-CDC-INFO
  • Australia: 1802007
  • If you live in another country, please leave a comment telling us where you get your reliable information and I will add it here!
And if you cannot reach anyone via phone or online, you can listen to your portable radio for updated information.

Now, I'm sure I've missed something here, so please add what you know into the comments below. It could help us all in ways we cannot imagine!

Stay safe, happy, and prepared.