As reports coming out of Mexico suggest that the Swine Flu outbreak is getting worse, the world waits in fear that we could be on the edge of a new global flu pandemic.
As of early Sunday morning US time (April 26), the CDC has issued a flu outbreak notice, and the World Health Organization has issued an alert that the outbreak could develop into a pandemic. It should be noted that while widespread panic is starting to be reported in Mexico, that the only other cases reported so far are in the United States and possibly New Zealand. If this does develop into a pandemic, we could be days, or even longer away from knowing. However, that doesn't mean there aren't things you can do now if you are concerned.
The biggest thing to keep in mind is that should a pandemic break out, you're at more risk from indirect issues than direct ones. While there have been deaths in Mexico, many of those infected in the United States have not needed hospital stays; yes, you could die without medical assistance, but the chances in developed countries are far lower. The bigger risk (in most scenarios) comes from a shut down or unavailability of services that could result from a widespread outbreak.
Already in Mexico, public spaces and schools have been shut, and there has been a rush on supermarkets, resulting in food shortages. Hospitals have become overwhelmed, both from those infected, and those who think they might be, bringing healthcare in Mexico to its knees. If you think it can't happen in your neighborhood, there's already been a panic in one town in New York state that has had an outbreak, with the local hospital swamped.
You might not die of swine flu, but if you become sick or injured during a pandemic, you simply might not be able to get help you need.
Experts suggest that there are things you can do to minimize your risks during a pandemic outbreak.
- Have two weeks supply of food and water available: include foods that don't require heating in the event utilities fail. Water is important is the event that the water supply is interrupted or no longer safe
- Stock up on medicines: include basics such as cold and flu medications, pain killers, vitamins, anti-diarrhea medication, bandages, and other basic first aid supplies
- have a ready supply of surgical masks if you have to leave the house during the pandemic
- lots of soap: everyone from the CDC through the alphabet to the WHO recommends a strict cleanliness regime to prevent the spread of germs. Regularly washing your hands to reduce your chances of catching it
Depending on where you live, one important piece of advice is to stay calm if there is an outbreak in your local area. If you've prepared for the worst, you should be safe in your home until the worst of it passes. If you haven't, remain calm and go about getting the things you need to protect yourself.