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H5N1

It's nice to see the media *finally* starting to talk about the 'bird flu'. Of all the possible ways for humanity to off itself, the bird flu's my fave, and I've been keeping an eye on it for most of the year.

Of course, like usual the media's focusing on the hype and the scare, and sometimes missing the details. I'm worried that even though it's getting some attention, since the media has cried wolf a lot (sars, ebola, etc.) people will ignore this one, and won't be prepared.

History teaches us that these pandemics are worst when the population is unprepared. As well, it shows that when society gains a scientific understanding of the disease and is able to adequately plan and prepare, the disease can be controlled and sometimes even eliminated. I don't have much faith that we can rely on the government to prevent catastrophies like this; I think to survive we'll have to look out for ourselves and each other.

Most of us alive today have experienced influenza as just a super-cold that puts you down for a week instead of a weekend, that mainly just affects kids and old people. So it's going to be real easy to ignore.

But if you look back over history at the big diseases - the major wipe-out-entire-civilizations pandemic type bugs - influenza shows up on that list a lot. Maybe not as scary as the bubonic plague, cholera, or smallpox, but definitely on the list.

In fact, the worst pandemic of all time was a case of influenza that happened less than a century ago. The 1918 Spanish Flu (in Spain it was called 'The French Flu') infected 20-40 percent of the world's population, killing 25-50 million of them over a period of only about 6 months. The world's population dropped by 2.5-5% due to these deaths. Unlike normal flu's, this one had the highest mortality rate in the 20-50 age bracket. Death often occurred fast; sometimes within the same day that you develop symptoms, but other times due to complications during recovery the following week (generally bacterial infections / pneumonia or malnourishment).

From a historical perspective it is amazing to me how thoroughly we've put it out of our collective memory. From what I've read of the period, it was horrible. Stores were closed, bodies piled up with no gravediggers to bury them, railroads wouldn't accept passengers without signed certificates,

This H5N1 strain is particularly bad, too. Of the documented cases, death occurs about half the time. Presently, it is mostly contageous only between birds. Humans can catch it from birds (and cats apparently), but not (easily) from other humans. However, one of the well known characteristics of the flu bug is that it easily mutates into a form that humans can transmit to each other. Unlike Cholera, the Plague, and smallpox, you've probably caught the flu before once or twice. It is not that hard to imagine yourself catching this one too.

However, the danger we all face here is broader and more systemic than just catching the flu and trying to survive it. Lessons can be learned from what happened in 1918. Society itself will get put on pause for a lengthy duration; possibly for a month or more. Some will be sick, others afraid of becoming sick. Or the government itself will enforce a quarantine through martial law.

Now, as open source folk, we're not ones to simply accept a virus and its consequences; we want to have the power either to avoid it or to solve it. Fortunately, there are steps that can be done to prepare, so you'll either be in that proportion that doesn't catch it at all, or that catches it but manages to survive.

First, there isn't a vaccine for this one and there won't be one this flu season. If H5N1 doesn't mutate this year, it's possible there might be one next year, but we'll have to see.

Second, the anti-viral medicine that everyone *had* been planning on using for this, is useless because the Chinese government was using it on its chickens and ducks, so H5N1 was able to develop an immunity to it. The antivirals that *are* effective are unfortunately in short supply, expensive, and not as effective. Tamiflu is getting attention, but it sounds like H5N1 is becoming partially immune to it, too. You might want to think about asking your doctor for a prescription of Relenza, especially if you or your spouse works in the health field or with children.

Third, you're going to want to get the following to help you avoid catching it: Extra bleach for disinfectant (plain bleach, not the color-safe, scented, etc. stuff), alcohol based hand sanitizers, a box of disposable gloves, N95-level face masks (easy to get a pack of 3 for $5 at the hardware store), and plenty of soap.

Fourth, give consideration to being able to be quarantined in your house for several weeks or a month. Arrange to have a lot more non-perishable food and water on hand than usual, and if you're on medications you should probably figure out how to have at least a few week's supply on hand at any time. Don't let your car's gas tank get less than half full. You can order 'water barrels' online, in 15, 30, and 55 gallon sizes. They say you should have 1-2 gallons per person, per day, so I figure 30 gallons per person in your household as a minimum.

Especially give consideration to potential medical needs; during a flu crisis (or even just a flu panic), you probably won't want to go to the hospital so the ability to tend to injuries or illnesses at home may be literally a lifesaver. If your medical insurance will pay for first aid kits, this'd be a good use for that! Unfortunately, the most useful items (antibiotics, prescription-only meds, etc.) aren't included even in professional kits.

Fifth, prepare for your recovery. Aside from Relenza or other antivirals, there's not much you're going to be able to do to cure yourself of the flu. However, it sounds like the danger from the virus itself is gone within a day or so, and the remaining challenge is to survive the recovery. There are some things you can do here, and if you do nothing else this is probably the best place to invest some preparation time. The main dangers include secondary infections (pneumonia, etc.), dehydration, and malnutrition. I imagine you'll probably feel so run down that you won't have enough energy to take care of yourself very well, so preparation should include making a lot of short cuts for yourself. Put together a sick kit with non-diet 7-up, boxed juices, and other sources of carbs that you can easily consume when very ill. Vitamins, anti-diarrhea meds, antihistamine, decongestant, and stomach-settling meds are must-haves. There are other herbs and natural substances (garlic, ginger, etc.) that may be worth having on hand too.

Get a $15-35 pneumonia vaccination (unlike the flu, you only need to get it once); maybe get meningitis too ($115).

Sixth, it is potential that utilities might become unreliable, so it may be wise to plan for that, too. A hurricane lamp with kerosene, a propane stove and canisters, a little shovel, and a 15-gallon tank of water are cost effective safety measures. A solar or crank-powered radio and flashlight may come in handy. Figure out what to do if your heat goes out for a week in the middle of the winter, too.

If you want to get *really* crazy with survival preparations, there's a lot of other resources out there for you. However, it seems like there's an endless amount of stuff to devote space, time, and money to, so before this you may want to make a list of other likely disasters for your particular area (volcanoes, earthquakes, hurricanes, floods, fires, nukes, riots...) and prioritize accordingly. For me in Oregon, I figure the volcano threat is fairly realistic (heck, I remember St. Helens in 1980!) so filtration-style safety measures are high in my priority list. Also remember that there probably *will* be other people around with some of this stuff to trade, so don't worry about getting everything 100% perfect, and do think about getting some extras that might be useful on the black market; a case of bic lighters might be your most useful survival item!