Swine flu redux: Time to prepare

It is time to get ready for flu season, especially the return of the swine flu. As William Schaffner, a influenza expert at Vanderbilt University's School of Medicine said in yesterday's Washington Post, , "The virus is still around and ready to explode. We're potentially looking at a very big mess."

Whether the swine flu will be as bad as some fear is impossible to know. This is a new strain for which most people have no immunity. While extreme cases have been very rare thus far, the virus seems to have picked up momentum during the Southern Hemisphere's flu season. Outbreaks in Australia, New Zealand, and Argentina have hit younger populations disproportionately hard and have resulted in school and theater closings, and have strained some emergency rooms and intensive care units.

I don't want to sound like Chicken Little -- the sky is not falling and there is no need to be overly anxious. But given the uncertainty around the swine flu, it seems prudent to take some simple preventative measures. We gave the following suggestions in a post last April. We think they still make sense:

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 a 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.