Emergency Preparedness: Practicality or Paranoia?

S.A.R.S., Swine Flu, Legionnaires, A.I.D.S., flesh-eating virus, Mad Cow, anthrax scares, bio-terrorism, Y2K…I’m tired of being scared by the media. Yeah, I do have a condition–Fear Fatigue. I’m scared enough living in this post-9-11 world and being bombarded from all sides by the latest frightful something-or-other TV warns us about. So I just don’t worry about it…Que sera sera. So why worry about another something new that’s been hitting the airwaves the past few years…Bird Flu?! Nothing’s come of it. No pandemic is sweeping the world. Right?

Despite this knee-jerk reaction, I maxed my plastic money this summer and bought about $5,000 of supplies: food, water, prescriptions for my disabled mother, and energy supplies to last three months. What? After a lifetime of not taking any threat seriously? Why the change? Have I just gone off my rocker? Did the media finally get to me after decades of barraging me with the latest and worst news it can find? Am I having that mid-life flip-out? Or is there something to this one that made me quiver?

I dug in and began to really researched this one for myself after reading one short paragraph that stopped me in my tracks…

This fiscally conservative President [Bush], who is reeling from the economic impact of the Iraq war and the federal response to Katrina, was advocating a $7.1 billion expenditure—for a problem that has thus far killed only 69 people out of a worldwide population of some six billion!

That article, written over a year ago (more people have since died of Bird Flu) was scribed by a brother of mine—the Executive Director of the National Environmental Health Association (NEHA). As head of NEHA, my brother flies to Europe to interact with the World Health Organization, interacts continuously with our nation’s Centers For Disease Control, and regularly consults with academic, medical and political experts across the country. Hmmmm, must be something about this Bird Flu thing. Maybe I should listen up or read up. I kept reading.

Peculiar events began to transpire with this particular virus. Avian flu (yes, birds get their own brand of seasonal flu) rarely jumps species—this one did. Chickens passed it to migratory birds whose flight patterns take them around the globe. Pigs, cats, dogs and horses in countries other than “Ground Zero” China (likely source) were beginning to die from H5N1 virus (the Bird Flu virus). H5N1 IS pandemic now among birds—millions (over 150 mil) have died. Humans were also beginning to die from it.

OK, so what. Only sixty-nine-then deaths worldwide…I still was mystified by the uproar H5N1 began to kick up. I kept reading. I began to discover how governments, worldwide, are stocking for a pandemic—a global medical catastrophe caused by a new virus to which humans have no immunological defense.

Well, can’t the scientists just come up with some vaccine? Not so simple. Vaccines are developed by injecting chicken eggs with a less potent version of a virus that then replicates in the egg. A part of this material (called antigens) is then harvested for vaccines, injected into humans, who the develop an immunity to the ‘impotentized’ virus, thus giving us protection from its more virulent version. But…H5N1 is so virulent that eggs are being killed by it before antigens have any chance to develop. H5N1 is so virulent that the mortality rate among humans who acquire it is over 50%! I kept digging, my head now being fully pulled out of my sandbox.

When I hear “Bird Flu” on the news now, my ears perk up. Another expert is being interviewed. Ultimately each is asked how he or she is personally preparing. Incredibly, I hear each the same echo …three months. That’s impossible. President Clinton and President H.W. Bush keep saying stock up for three days. I’ve noticed that they’ve even recently changed their tune. Now it’s three weeks.

OK, I reasoned. If Bird Flu is such a big deal, then why aren’t we hearing more on the national media? Surely such a free press as our, and one that compulsively searches for the latest and biggest ‘worstest’ would be all over this one. Yeah…………unless it were so big that coverage could stir a pandemic in fear, a possible, reactionary economic market crash and raiding of store shelves. Alternatively, the press, as most of us, may not grasp the depth of this potentiality. Finally, as Bird Flu has not yet registered its appearance on the Northern Hemisphere, any full attack concern could be premature. The problem with Bird Flu is this: once this virus becomes capable of easily transmitting itself between humans, our window of opportunity to prepare is gone, no matter if the problem begins in the most remote regions of our planet.

Wow. I began to think about my disabled mother who now lives in a facility. If such a calamity were to befall us, how would she get her medicine? How would the facility get enough food and water to maintain its residents? In the next article, I will share the latest scientific findings, recommendations, and personal preparations strategies.

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