Pandemic Preparedness – Information You Can Use

Swine flu has pretty much disappeared from the print newspaper headlines and nightly TV news broadcasts (but not, pushed off in part by the vital 24-hour streaming coverage of an aging rock star’s death but mostly because TV news viewers are assumed by the media moguls to have about the same attention span as the average 5-year-old. However, health agencies around the world haven’t forgotten the big lesson of the WWI pandemic where the initial outbreak was mild, followed by a serious surge during the traditional flu season.

The Mid-July data from the CDC in Atlanta reports that the country’s number of lab-confirmed cases has reached 40,617, of which 263 were fatal.

Estimates for total flu incidents are generally based on about 10 percent of cases being confirmed, so the estimated total incidents are about a half million.

Especially since it is still active this summer and because of the 90 pediatric fatalities so far, many groups are highly concerned that there will be a major surge of H1N1 as well as seasonal flu activity when school begins in the fall.

Some long-term weather forecasts are already calling for a colder and snowier winter if only because there have been a string of mild winters here in the Northeast.

Combine those two factors with the fact that few people under 50 seem to have any resistance to the current strain of H1N1 and you can see that the WHO’s upgrade of this flu variant to pandemic status wasn’t precipitous.

Now factor in the way this flu has already shown the ability to move between species and that it is active in areas of the world where the much more dangerous H5N1 bird flu with the final danger signal – early indications of resistance to Tamiflu (oseltamivir phosphate) – and a prudent parent will begin looking into ways to prepare for this fall.

A major concern of health authorities is that the relatively mild Type A(H1N1) flu could easily combine with some more dangerous flu strain (perhaps the highly dangerous H5N1 bird flu) making the more dangerous strain easier to transmit between people, or simply mutate enough to have a much higher fatality rate.

The World Health Organization (WHO) Q&A on oseltamivir-resistance includes the fact that Type A(H1N1) resistance to Tamiflu was reported more than a year ago.

According to a report by The Center for Infectious Disease Research & Policy at the University of Minnesota, “The CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) will hold an emergency meeting on Jul 29 to discuss recommendations for which populations should be targeted for novel H1N1 flu vaccination and whether tiering the vaccine prioritization would be appropriate.”

Be Prepared – Your Doctor and Hospital May Be a Bit Busy

Individuals and especially parents should be aware that you may need to care for sick family members at home for several weeks and that flu vaccines may not be available in sufficient quantities to supply everyone who wants or needs the treatment – in other words, there may well be shortages and rationing.

This means both stock piling food and water, but also over-the-counter medical supplies, even toilet paper, in larger than usual quantities.

There are many sites providing checklists and advice on preparing families for a Pandemic flu threat which may occur this fall and winter.

A reference guide with information and essential lists

Find an HHS A guide for individuals and families at

Another HHS Individuals and families planning guide is on this page.

And an HHS checklist for families is published in English, Farsi, Russian, Arabic, Chinese, Spanish, and other languages.

If you’ve never seen one of these generic preparedness lists, you might want to check it out, but they can all be boiled down to this advice:

Store non perishable food and water for two weeks; stock up on any special medicines such as prescriptions, and make up a simple kit with the usual household and bathroom supplies anyone would carry along on a multi-day road trip with kids.

The advice on staying healthy includes teaching kids to stay away from sick people and to wash their hands a lot.

A bit more useful information for anyone who has already been through a minor snow storm or flood and been unable to get to the grocery store twice a day, is available from the CDC which provides guidance on selecting and using particulate masks which will actually be useful in preventing the spread of infections.

As I reported in an earlier story, the simple masks you often see being worn by crowds of individuals are of little or no use (they are mostly government PR to calm the populace) – the only real protection comes from the proper use of N-95 particulate masks. These aren’t rare medical supplies; they are also used by NASCAR mechanics.

You can buy or order a box from some automotive supply companies or drug stores. They can also be found on eBay and a few ads may show up in the margins beside this story.

Basic CDC mask information is found at .

Detailed advice on the use of these masks by the general public is at

EMS and 911 discussion points will provide you with all the information you would get by calling an emergency service so reduce needlessly tying up emergency phone lines by reading the same advice they are told to give out to the public.

If we have a serious pandemic this winter season then hospitals and doctors will be overwhelmed and many people will need to care for family members at home – this is especially true since there is little medical science can do for people with a virus infection unless a specific drug such as Tamiflu exists which works against the particular flu strain.

Even if it is effective, an anti-viral drug must be given as quickly as possible after infection – sitting in an emergency room for 12-14 hours with a sick child is not something to do if you can avoid it by learning enough in advance to be prepared.

Tamiflu Fact Sheet

Relenza Fact Sheet

And, of course, there is which includes a map with infection and mortality data for each state – unfortunately lacking any time or date stamp to indicate how current the information actually is.