This little piggy has a fever: Protecting yourself from the swine flu

A wise man once said, "If you are prepared, you need not fear." While there is clearly no need to panic, we recommend that you take the recent outbreak of swine flu seriously.

It has been several decades since we experienced a pandemic devastating enough to disrupt global economic conditions. If you want to get a sense of how bad a pandemic could be, take a look at the Great Pandemic of 1918. Also called the Spanish Flu, that pandemic killed somewhere between 20 million and 100 million people across the globe.

Given today's rapid pace of international travel and tightly interwoven global trade, many public health experts believe a 1918-type pandemic is only a matter of time. Whether the recent outbreak of swine flu develops into such a pandemic remains to be seen, but a few simple precautions can help you protect yourself and your family physically and financially. These include:

1. Establish a personal store of food, water, medicine and other essentials. In our day of "just in time" inventory control, retailers run out of supplies quickly during any sort of economic disruption. A couple of years ago the Monterey Peninsula experienced a severe windstorm that blew down trees and took out electricity for several days. When the lights went out, a client of mine went to the store to buy flashlight batteries, but found they were completely sold out. Her situation was only an inconvenience (she dealt with it by going to bed earlier than usual). But a pandemic-induced disruption in the flow of food, safe water or medical supplies could be much more serious.  Having a ready supply of your essentials will allow you to ride out any disruption with little hardship or danger. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends a two week supply at a minimum.

If you want more information on emergency preparedness, I encourage you to talk to your friends who are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, otherwise known as Mormons. We have been concerned with personal emergency preparedness for many years and I don't know of any group with more practical experience in this area. The Church also publishes some basic information online at www.providentliving.org.

2. Establish a ready cash reserve. If a 1918-type pandemic occurs, it may be difficult to get money out of banks or brokerage accounts. A cash reserve sufficient to cover basic living expenses for two weeks should be enough. Small bills will make transactions more efficient, but be discreet and keep your money in a home safe.

3. Follow procedures established by the CDC. They have published an outstanding checklist that will help you stay healthy and safe during a pandemic.

4. Monitor the progress of any serious outbreak. The CDC has established an website to track the progress of the swine flu outbreak.

5. Listen to your mother. Your mother probably taught you some basic health habits. In case you need a reminder, the CDC provides the following:

  • Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially after you cough or sneeze. Alcohol-based hands cleaners are also effective.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Germs spread that way.