With the latest reports of the cases of human Avian flu increasing- and spreading- the interest in what Americans need to do is not purely academic or abstract. It entails genuine grave decisions on matters of life and death. Some further areas I want to cover in this blog post include: hygiene, cooking when electricity is either not available or only partially, and wills.
There are two aspects here, external and internal - the first to do with interactions with the outside world in the grip of Avian H5 N1 flu, and the second pertaining to your household when one or more members becomes ill.
In the external realm, you will want to protect yourself by "social distancing" - avoiding gatherings of people, or even simple social occasions whether weddings, parties or whatever. This sounds harsh, but we know from data compiled during the Spanish flu pandemic that those who were most likely to survive minimized their contacts with the outside word and had few if any occasions to mingle. Mingling in any venue means chances increase for droplet or touch infection, even if you're wearing a flu mask - and you should wear one if you go out, even to shop for other needed odds and ends (e.g. battery chargers, Mag-lites etc.).
Also, it goes without saying that when you return home you wash hands rigorously, no 5 seconds and done. During the recent norovirus outbreak I even went one step further by using antiseptic wipes on the surfaces of any bottles, or cans purchased at the grocery which I intended for immediate use. This after learning that the norovirus can last up to 13 or more days on surfaces. As I already had a wife recovering from H3N2 flu, I didn't want her - or me (as the primary helper) to get norovirus on top of it.
Now, ridicule the films 'Contagion' and 'Fatal Contact- Bird Flu in America' as scare mongering if you will, but the fact is people are often way too 'touch happy' during even seasonal flu outbreaks and this is what brings perdition on them and their families. They touch each other, shake hands, hug in the grocery mart, then touch their noses, face etc. --- and as the CDC character notes in 'Contagion' - up to 3500 times an hour! In a time of Avian Flu, if you happen to go out and about, you want to minimize touching as much as feasible. Use readily disposable latex gloves if you must go out at the height of an epidemic or pandemic, and then the payment will not be as fierce if you touch door knobs, elevator buttons or other contaminated surfaces.
Those who think these precautions are over the top, I suggest you get hold of PBS' documentary on the Spanish flu and watch it, especially the scenes of the bloody vomit and sputum covering hospital beds and the lungs (at autopsy) turned into jello after the subjects shown were infected. This isn't a damned joke, not one bit.
The hygiene principles applied to external agents can be also applied to the household. How did I avoid getting H3N2 flu when my wife had it? A number of precautions, all based on reasonable separation and isolation, which would help in the event Avian Flu takes down any person in your household:
1- Keeping all utensils, dishes etc. separate – each person using his, her own.
2- The infected person covering every sneeze or cough to reduce the likelihood of droplet infection.
3- Washing hands after touching almost everything including laptop (that we sometimes share), phone, or even a door knob. As for phone, using wipes to scrub it down before making or taking a call.
4- No touching of the face if you can help it, including picking at nose, rubbing eyes, putting fingers into mouth etc. Be conscious of what you are doing with fingers, hands!
5- Sleeping in separate bedrooms -if this is feasible- especially as infected people will experience severe coughing bouts at night which they'll not be able control- hence droplets spread through the room.
The above are all in place once a household member gets ill
Cooking when Electricity is a problem:
Let's face it- eating canned foods for three months may not be everyone's cup of tea. For those who want some degree of diversity, you will need to get cooking gear that doesn't depend on electricity - and bear in mind the folks that operate your utility or power station can get sick too!
The methods most recommended in survival handbooks include:
- Two burner Coleman stove
- Small Weber Kettle grill (burns charcoal briquettes but can use other materials)
- Large Weber Propane grill that runs off a 20-lb propane tank.
My preferences go to the first two, since I kind of instinctively distrust propane tanks. But this is still a personal choice. A further note, since water is likely to be in short supply, it is useful to wrap any veggies or meats in aluminum foil before putting onto your heat source. This way you keep the surfaces of your grill or stove clean in a (likely) water -challenged situation and the last thing you want is salmonella with Avian flu going around! Just remember to stock plenty of aluminum foil along with your foods.
Making out a Will:
Incredibly, nearly 2 in 3 Americans have no Will. Though they may pout and whine about the "government" taking their hard earned money, this is where it all gets exposed as nonsense-- since without a will that's exactly what you're allowing to happen! No one likes to think about the inevitable (except maybe the crazed fundies in their salvation and 'Hell' phantasms) but think about it you must - especially when a flu pandemic is facing you. Among the myths that people buy into:
"Joint ownership of accounts, property etc. makes a will unecessary".
This is a common misconception. In fact, joint ownership alone often creates needless state or federal estate taxes and may result in gift taxes being due. It may also deny you complete control over your property while you're still living. Thus, joint ownership is a poor substitute for a will but can work well in conjunction with one.
"A Will is not needed for a small estate".
On the contrary, the smaller the assets or estate the more important it be settled quickly, since delays mean increased expenses cutting down the proceeds. In many cases, an estate is larger than the owner realizes, and it's often undervalued. Still have all those 1952 TOPPS baseball cards? Well, they are part of your estate and if in near mint condition, now worth over $55,000.
Can you prepare a will - last will and testament- on your own? Yes, but it's not a good idea. The reason is that many do-it-yourself wills are declared null and void by the courts. My wife and I got our original will done soon after our marriage (1975) by an attorney in Barbados, it took ten minutes and cost $100 Bds. We got our will revised about ten years ago, to take into account family-beneficiary changes etc. It was done by a local attorney for about $200 and took less than a half hour.
Given such an important piece of the typical American's financial puzzle, it is incredible that more haven't done it. With a possible Avian flu pandemic it is essential it be done, and now may be the time to do it so you can focus your energies on collecting supplies later. Just a bit of advice!