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December 07, 2005

USA Today Confirms It: Bird-Flu (Hysteria) Has Hit the United States

A few days ago, I expressed surprise that the UK appeared to be gripped by bird-flu hysteria, as I hadn't seen any indications of that here in the USA. Now I find I'm behind the curve: Tamiflu stockpiling and survival-mentality thinking is widespread, according to USA Today. The paper found several people who described the threat of avian-flu pandemic possibilities in terms eerily reminiscent of the Y2K madness.

Here's a sample chunk:
For several weeks, [Will] Stewart [of Loudoun County, Virginia, southwest of Washington, DC] has been assembling a supply of water and food, enough to last three to six months.

He is buying equipment, such as rain barrels to capture fresh water and Mylar bags to store bushels of barley and soybeans. His home is solar-powered, and he has a well. He keeps a few sheep that could provide food if necessary, and he is prepared to provide a safe refuge for his immediate family, his siblings and their families.

He says he has a "varmint gun" at the farm and plans to buy one or two more weapons because [...] he believes that if employees are too sick to go to work, grocery shelves will empty quickly, and there could be panic.

"I believe there's going to be different classes of marauding people," he says. "There will be gangs just looting, five or eight people in a gang. Depending on how long this lasts, there could be marauders who are former military. So there will be four male adults in this house who know how to use firearms."

Peter Sandman, a risk analyst and consultant to international businesses and governments, including the HHS, says that in any situation of perceived threat, there are those, such as Stewart, who go to extremes.

"They periodically turn out to be right, but it's a bell curve, with one edge doing absolutely nothing and saying, 'Bird flu? What's bird flu?' " Sandman says. "That's a rather bigger edge" than the other extreme.

The goal of risk communication is to move people from the idea that "this is something for the government to worry about" to the attitude that "this may be serious. Let me consider what I can do and do what is practical for me, and then I'll get back to my normal life and stay vigilant, and if it comes, I'll be better prepared."

Sandman says of greater concern than the too-ready are those who do nothing: "the huge numbers of people who don't have three days' food in their house, and more to the point, who have not yet thought if there is a pandemic" what they'll need to do.

"That kind of thinking isn't nutty. It may turn out to be necessary, and if not, it doesn't disrupt your life. We want as many people as possible thinking about what a pandemic is like and what a severe pandemic is like."

The last ones, in 1957 and 1968, were mild. "It was a big deal for hospitals," Sandman says.

"There were not enough ventilators. Some schools closed down for a couple of weeks. The only thing you have to do to get ready for (a pandemic similar to the one in) 1957, if that's what's coming, is hope the feds know what they're doing. But if it's 1918, then it's not all medical," Sandman says.

"You don't have to go to the extreme of being a survivalist and moving to Montana. There's a middle ground."

He suggests buying such items as face masks. "You won't be able to get masks after the pandemic starts, but they're available now, and it wouldn't hurt to get a box of 50 or 100," Sandman says.

Think about what to do if doctors' offices are shuttered and hospitals overwhelmed. "If you have to treat a child at home, think, what do I need. It's not stupid to be thinking about it," he says.

"A big hunk of preparedness is emotional. When athletes prepare for the big game, they don't just swing bats. They imagine the game. If you want to be able to cope with moments of crisis, it helps to have thought about it."

See a USA Today sidebar on two approaches to avian-flu preparedness. (When thinking of what to do, don't forget that noted health expert Dr. Richard Wenzel just last weekend placed odds on a bird-flu pandemic at "less than 50 percent.")

Meanwhile, back at the office, is this really surprising?: "Most US Companies Don't Have Super-Flu Plans". Just a couple of weeks ago, world headlines told readers that their particular nation's government didn't have pandemic-flu plans in place. Just how godlike are government and business leaders supposed to be?


At 12/11/2005 6:34 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Here's my personal preparedness guide. The USA Today asked me what the worst case scenario would be for civil unrest. I answered, "If there is a 3-5 month wave with interrupted food supplies, then there is a small chance that gangs..." The editors said they had to take some material out because of space considerations. Right....


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