- Don't count on a vaccine being available. The flu vaccine that is currently used for seasonal flu will not work against avian influenza. New strains of the virus require new vaccines, and these can take months or years to develop and even longer to produce and distribute on a large scale.
- Stay informed. Should a pandemic of any kind flare up, the World Health Organization (WHO), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and other governmental and non-governmental organizations will provide information on the spread of the disease, as well as updates on vaccines or other medications, tips for keeping yourself safe, and travel advisories. The WHO and CDC, as well as various national governments, already have websites in place to provide useful planning information to the public. Newspapers and TV and radio broadcasts will also help disseminate critical warnings and advice.
- Get your yearly flu vaccine shot. While the current vaccine won't protect you from Avian flu or any other "new" strains of the virus, it can help you stay healthy (by protecting you some flu virus strains), which may in turn help your body to fight the virus better if you do become infected.
- Get a pneumonia vaccine shot. In past influenza pandemics, many victims succumbed to secondary pneumonia infection. While the pneumonia vaccine cannot protect against all types of pneumonia, it can improve your chances of surviving the pandemic. The vaccine is especially recommended for people over the age of 65 or those who have chronic illnesses such as diabetes or asthma.
- Use anti-viral medications if advised to do so by a health professional or by the government. Two antiviral medications, Tamiflu and Relenza, have shown the potential to effectively prevent and treat avian flu. These are both available only by prescription and will probably be effective only if taken before infection or very shortly afterward. It should be noted that additional testing is necessary to determine how effective these drugs really are against avian flu. Furthermore, mutations in the avian flu virus may render them ineffective in time.
- Wash your hands frequently.
Hand washing may be the single most powerful defense against avian
influenza and many other infectious diseases. If pandemic strikes,
you should wash your hands several times a day. Make sure that you
- Use an alcohol-based disinfectant. Since it's probably not feasible to wash your hands every time you touch something that may carry the virus, you should carry an alcohol-based hand cleaner with you at all times. These cleaners come in a variety of forms, and can be used any time you need a quick touch-up. Keep in mind, however, that the use of these cleaners is not a substitute for thoroughly washing your hands, and they should only be used to supplement handwashing.
- Avoid exposure to infected birds. Right now, the only documented way to become infected with avian influenza is by coming into contact with infected birds or poultry products, and these routes of infection will continue even if the virus mutates so that human-to-human transmission becomes the greatest threat. Avoid handling wild birds, and try to prevent domestic animals (such as house cats) from coming into contact with birds. If you work in proximity to dead or live poultry--on a farm or in a poultry-processing facility, for example--take precautions such as wearing gloves, respirators, and safety aprons. Cook poultry thoroughly, to 165 degrees F throughout, and exercise proper food-handling techniques, as you would to protect yourself from other threats such as salmonella. Proper cooking kills the avian influenza virus.
- Exercise social distancing.
The most effective way to prevent becoming infected with avian
influenza is to avoid exposure to infected people. Unfortunately,
it's not possible to determine who is infected and who is not--by
the time symptoms appear, a person is already contagious. Social
distancing, deliberately limiting contact with people (especially
large groups of people), is a reasonable precaution to take in the
event of a pandemic.
- Stay home from work. If you're sick or if others at your workplace have become sick, you should stay away from your workplace even in the absence of a pandemic. Given that people will generally be infected and contagious before they exhibit symptoms, however, during a pandemic it's essential to stay away from places, such as work, where you have a high probability of being exposed to an infected person.
- Try to work from home. A pandemic can last for months or even years, and waves of intense local outbreaks can last for weeks, so it's not like you can just take a few sick days to protect yourself from workplace infection. If possible, try to arrange a work-from-home situation. A surprising variety of jobs can now be accomplished remotely, and employers will likely be willing--or even required--to try this out if a pandemic strikes.
- Keep children home from school. Any parent knows that kids pick up all kinds of bugs at school. Avian influenza is one bug that you certainly don't want your kids picking up.
- Avoid public transportation. Buses, planes, boats, and trains place large numbers of people in close quarters. Public transportation is the ideal vehicle for widespread spread of infectious disease.
- Stay away from public events. During a pandemic, governments may cancel public events, but even if they don't, you should probably stay away from them. Any large gathering of people in close proximity creates a high-risk situation.
- Wear a respirator. The influenza virus can be spread through the air, so in the event of a pandemic it's a good idea to protect yourself from inhalation of the virus if you're out in public. While surgical masks only prevent the wearer from spreading germs, respirators (which often look like surgical masks) protect the wearer from inhaling germs. You can buy respirators that are designed for one-time use, or you can buy reusable ones with replaceable filters. Use only respirators labeled as "NIOSH certified," "N95," "N99," or "N100," as these help protect against inhalation of very small particles. Respirators only provide protection when worn properly, so be sure to follow the instructions exactly--they should cover the nose, and there should be no gaps between the mask and the side of the face.
- Wear medical gloves. Gloves can prevent germs from getting on your hands, where they can be absorbed directly through open cuts or spread to other parts of your body. Latex ornitrile medical gloves or heavy-duty rubber gloves can be used to protect the hands. The gloves should be removed if torn or damaged, and hands should be thoroughly washed after removal of gloves.
- Protect your eyes. Avian influenza can be spread if contaminated droplets (from a sneeze, for example) enter the eyes. Wear glasses or goggles to prevent this from occurring, and avoid touching your eyes with your hands or with potentially contaminated materials.
- Dispose of potentially contaminated materials properly. Gloves, masks, tissues, and other potential biohazards should be handled carefully and disposed of properly. Place these materials in approved biohazard containers or seal them in clearly marked plastic bags.
- Prepare for disruption of
services. If a pandemic strikes, many of
the basic services we take for granted, such as electricity, phone,
and mass transit, may be disrupted temporarily. Widespread employee
absenteeism and massive death tolls can shut down everything from
the corner store to hospitals.
- Keep a small amount of cash around at all times as banks may close and ATMs may be out of service.
- Discuss emergency preparation with your family. Make a plan so that children will know what to do and where to go if you are incapacitated or killed, or if family members cannot communicate with each other.
- Stock up on necessities.
In the developed world, at least, food shortages and disruption of
services will likely not last more than a week or two at a time.
Still, it's essential to be prepared for such an event.
- Store a two-week supply of water for everyone in your household. Keep at least 1 gallon per person per day in clear plastic containers.
- Store a two-week supply of food. Opt for non-perishable foods that don't need to be cooked and that don't require a lot of water to prepare.
- Make sure you have an adequate supply of essential medications.
- Seek medical attention at the onset of symptoms. The effectiveness of antiviral medications decreases as the illness progresses, so prompt medical treatment is imperative. If someone with whom you have had close contact becomes infected, be sure to seek medical care even if you do not display symptoms.
- While health officials say that avian flu is the most likely candidate for the next pandemic, any number of infectious diseases can spread to pandemic proportions. In the past, the world has seen pandemics of bubonic plague, cholera, tuberculosis, and typhus, for example, and the current AIDS crisis can also be described as pandemic, given that the disease has spread worldwide and infects as many as 25% of the population in some areas. Most of the precautions listed above can be equally applied to any pandemic.
- You may find that wearing a mask makes it more difficult to breathe. In fact, people with asthma and other respiratory problems may not be able to wear masks regularly. Even for those without these problems, masks can make you feel winded when walking up hills and performing other strenuous tasks. Remember, though, if you take your mask off or wear it improperly, it does you no good. Just slow down and get used to making the extra effort to breathe.
- It is unwise to travel during a pandemic. Avoid traveling except as absolutely necessary, such as when seeking medical attention.
- Frequent handwashing can prevent the spread of disease, but not if you touch contaminated objects right after you wash your hands. Use a paper towel to turn off the sink and when touching door handles.
- It's essential to teach your children the above steps, as well. Children in school foster the spread of disease because they are kept in close quarters with other children and because they generally have worse hygiene than adults.
- Cotton gloves can be worn under medical gloves to prevent dermatitis, a skin condition which can erupt after prolonged use of latex or nitrile gloves.
- Pull off gloves inside-out, so that the contaminated outsides of the gloves are contained within the inside-out glove.
- Cover your nose with a tissue when sneezing, and use disposable tissues (as opposed to handkerchiefs)
- Begin preparing now to make sure you have adequate savings in case a pandemic forces you to miss a substantial amount of work.
Surviving Avian Flu information
Insurance requirements after a disaster
Protect yourself and others:
- Wait for an all-clear announcement before leaving your home or shelter.
- Check people around you for injuries. Begin first-aid and seek help if necessary.
- Watch out for downed utility lines.
- Restrict telephone use to emergency calls.
- Avoid collapsed or deteriorated bridges.
- Check your water heater and appliances for damage. Do your checking with a flashlight, not matches or candles. If you smell gas, open windows and turn off the main valve. Don't turn on lights and appliances until the gas has dissipated and the system has been checked. If electric wires are shorting out, turn off the power.
- Use your emergency water or boil tap water before drinking until you are told the water supply is safe.
- Food that came in contact with flood waters may be contaminated and should be discarded.
- Check refrigerated food for spoilage. Make a list of spoiled or contaminated food and save the list for your claim representative. Damaged food may be covered by your insurance policy.
- Debris in the streets, downed power lines and flooding may make driving hazardous. If flooding is a potential hazard, stay away from rivers and streams.
Protect your home and personal property:
- Look for damage, including roof damage, that could allow rain into the house. (Don't climb onto the roof.)
- If your power is out, unplug all small and sensitive items to prevent electrical spike damage. (This includes TV, VCR, computers, etc.)
- Take reasonable steps to prevent further damage. This may include temporary roof repair, window glass replacement, boarding up holes with plywood and covering leaks with plastic sheeting.
- Remove water from saturated floors and carpet.
- Separate items that may be cleaned and/or repaired.
- Dry and clean wet furniture and clothing as soon as possible. Save your receipts; the costs for these emergency steps are possibly covered under your insurance policy.
- Check with your claim representative before you dispose of any items you plan to claim as damaged.
- Document the time you spent cleaning up, what you did and the number of hours.
- Make a list of all damaged items, include quantity, description and age.
Protect your car from further damage:
- If your car was under water, do not try to start it. Take extra steps to remove the water and speed up the drying process.
- Cover windows, holes, etc. to prevent more water from coming in.
- Find your vehicle and registration, you'll need it to file your insurance claim.
- If you need to have your vehicle towed, or get temporary repairs, save all receipts.
If your home is damaged so severely you can't live in it:
- Payment for expenses that are beyond your normal living expenses may be available.
- Find temporary housing for your family. (There is no coverage under most flood policies for this expense).
- We suggest that you not enter into any long-term leases until you talk to your insurance company claim representative.
- Keep all receipts associated with the temporary housing, meals and other miscellaneous expenses.
What is a disaster?
The United Nations defines a disaster as: "A serious disruption of the functioning of a community or a society causing widespread human, material, economic or environmental losses which exceed the ability of the affected community or society to cope using its own resources." (from the UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction)
A disaster is defined and 'declared' when local resources are overwhelmed; when more resources are required than those immediately available. A disaster simply defines the point of escalation where outside help is required: 9/11 was a disaster for the city of New York within minutes of occurrence. As moving resources to overwhelmed areas is a management problem, the term disaster management has come into use to describe larger scale processes of disaster relief and disaster recovery as opposed to emergency management of the more routine sort. Some disasters, such as a pandemic, may preclude any help arriving "from outside", as there may "be no outside" since many areas are affected at once. For this and other reasons, resilience rather than after-the-fact relief has become the primary goal of many agencies.