Will there be an outbreak of avian flu that threatens humans? Many experts disagree on when or if a human pandemic will occur, but do say there is a chance that the virus could mutate, leading to widespread infection. In that case, the best thing you and your family can do right now is to prepare for that possibility.
Here's what you need to know to help keep yourself healthy.
Stock up on Essentials
If there is an avian flu pandemic, you'll want to minimize your chance of catching it by staying indoors; you might even be required to stay home if the government asks that people remain in quarantine or "shelter in place." Stocking up today on at least seven days' worth of essentials such as water, nonperishable food, emergency and medical supplies will help you get through an extended time at home if an outbreak happens. Once you've purchased these items, store them in a place where you will not be tempted to dip into them for everyday use. See the checklist below for guidelines on what and how much you need.
Have an Outbreak Plan
It may feel odd or uncomfortable to talk to family members and loved ones about the worst-case pandemic scenario. But if that scenario strikes, you'll all be much better off if you have a plan decided on and ready. Talk with your friends and family about how you'd respond to an epidemic. Figure out how you would care for them and what your first response and responsibilities would be; this is an especially important conversation to have with those with special care needs. Get involved with local groups and community efforts aimed at preparing for a pandemic. If your community has no program in place yet, find out how you and your neighbors can get one started.
Pick up the Habits of Healthy Behavior
The habits that can help keep you healthy in an outbreak are the same good health habits that can keep you from catching the common cold: maintain a balanced diet, exercise regularly and get sufficient rest. Particularly in a flu outbreak situation, it will be important to wash your hands thoroughly and often, reminding loved ones -- especially children -- to do the same. Be diligent about covering coughs and sneezes with tissues, teaching any children in your family to do the same. Also teach children to stay away from others as much as possible if they are sick and stay home from work or school if you are sick.
Know Your Emergency Contacts and Information Compile the phone numbers you'd need in case of the emergency, keeping the list somewhere safe and visible. Make sure everyone in your household knows where to find it. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, you should include information for:
Local and out-of-town personal emergency contacts
Hospitals near your work, home and school
Your state public health department (full list at www.cdc.gov/other.htm#states)
Employer contact and emergency information
School contact and emergency information
Also, know your essential health information such as blood type, allergies, past or current medical conditions, and current medications and their dosages. Make a list of that essential information for all the members of your household. Keep that list safe and make sure everyone in your household knows where it is.
HHS has sample sheets that you can print out and fill in with all your essential contact and health information.
What Else Will I Need
Make sure you have:
Food and nonperishable items, such as ready-to-eat canned meats, fruits, vegetables, and soups, protein or fruit bars, dry cereal or granola, peanut butter or nuts, dried fruit, crackers, canned juices, bottled water, canned or jarred baby food and formula, and pet food.
Medical and practical items, such as prescriptions drugs and medical supplies such as glucose and blood-pressure monitoring equipment, soap and water, or alcohol-based hand wash, medicines for fever, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen, thermometer, anti-diarrheal medication, vitamins, fluids with electrolytes, cleansing agent/soap, flashlight, batteries, portable radio, manual can opener, garbage bags and tissues, toilet paper, and disposable diapers.
Source: the Department of Health and Human Services