September 22, 2014

What You Need to Know About a Pandemic

I have covered this topic in the past, but with the outbreaks of Ebola popping up and the number of new readers, I decided I would cover it again. A true pandemic is one of the “big ones” that scares me the most, partly because we are so limited by what we can do to prepare for it, and partly because I think it has a better chance of happening then an EMP over American soil.

I used the word “true” because the last pandemic we had, H1N1, aka the swine flu, wasn’t a true pandemic. It had the “morbidity rate” or rate of infection, but the mortality rate was actually lowered compared to past requirements.
 
 
Modern Day Pandemic Dangers

The last worldwide pandemic was the 1918 Influenza Pandemic, killing 20-50 million people, including 675,000 in the United States. The population of the United States in 1918 was 103,206,000, meaning that roughly .65% of the population was wiped out.

I believe that if we were to see a pandemic today, we would be in much worse shape. In 1918, if someone wanted to come to America, they had to take a boat. I don’t know the travel time of a vessel in 1918, but I would guess 10-14 days. With modern day air travel, an infected person could make it stateside in 24 hours, infecting everyone onboard in the process. In turn, those passengers would infect everyone on their connecting flights and eventually their families. One infected person could literally infect people travelling to the majority of states within in 24 hours.

The scare right now is Ebola. While Ebola is incredibly nasty and I mourn for the families who’ve been affected by it, it isn’t what scares me the most. Ebola most often comes from West Africa and patient zero is infected by direct contact with infected animals, some of which are used as a food supply, such as bats. It is then possible for human to human infection via the exchange of bodily fluids. Some of the numbers I have seen for mortality rate of Ebola are 50%-90%. However, I found data that suggests there have been less than 4,000 cases since Ebola was discovered in 1976, including the cases from the recent outbreaks.

What scares me is the illness that doesn’t exist yet or a mutation of an existing one that takes on more deadly qualities. For example, if a form of SARS, which has a high mortality rate, married a version of H1N1, we could then be faced with something that infects a large percentage of people and kills 15%-25% of those infected. To be clear, I am not saying that Ebola isn’t a threat. It is decimating countries in Western Africa, killing civilians and healthcare workers. We need to be vigilant and stay informed on any local cases of it. I’m just not sure Ebola has the same threat level as a more virulent strain of the flu. Here is an article from Canada published on June 23, 2014 where a physician and professor stated the following:

“If we had a case in Canada we’d isolate the case, the patient would live or die, and we’d be highly unlikely to have it transmit,”

While it is true that medical care has made incredible strides since 1918, there were no antibiotic resistant superbugs either, such as the recent Resistant ‘Nightmare Bacteria’ Increase Fivefold in Southeastern U.S. While we have far advanced scientific ability and equipment, for a vaccine to be developed, the scientists first have to be able to reproduce it, successfully test it, and then get FDA approval. This could take three months or more.

In case you were wondering, current US population is 318,559,000. If we saw 6.5% of our population die, that would be 2,100,000. When you consider the number of people taken out of the workforce, not just from death by pandemic, but those who are sick, those who are taking care of the sick and those self-quarantining, you can begin to see how quickly essential services could be overwhelmed and collapse.
 
 
What Can We Do?

In Flu and Pandemic Preps to Buy Now, I list three items that I own and believe you should as well; Hibiclens, Surgical N-95 NIOSH-certified masks and latex free gloves. Read the article for in depth information. Below are the highpoints.

Hibiclens was prescribed to me during an MRSA scare a few years back. Not only does Hibbiclens kill viruses and bacteria on contact, it will protect you for up to six hours after use.

Surgical N-95 NIOSH-certified masks are not the same as the N-95 masks you can buy at the big box store. These are the masks OSHA requires for medical personal exposed to potential pandemic victims.

After the masks, Latex free gloves are quite possibly the most important PPE (personal protection equipment) you can own. The two most common ways to spread a virus are through the air and through contact. If you wash with Hibiclens and wear gloves, you’ve greatly reduced the risk of direct contact.

We can also be prepared to hunker down and shelter in place to ride things out until we’re sure there is either nothing to worry about or there is a vaccine. This is one event I believe bugging out might be best, if you live in an urban environment and have somewhere else to go.

To either shelter in place or bug out before things take a bad turn, you need to stay on top of current events and be alerted for any stateside outbreaks, especially those in your local area.

One of the best resources for this is one of my sponsors, AlertsUSA. I have received alerts from AlertsUSA for quite some time now and they consistently provide news faster than I can find on mainstream media. They have important connections who pass information along to them, which they in turn pass along to their subscribers. As a reminder, Preparedness Club Members get a 25% discount at AlertsUSA.

Another site you can keep an eye on is the page that the CDC is keeping up to date on the Ebola outbreaks.

My personal plan would be to put the entire house in quarantine when I either a.) hear of multiple cases near me or b.) see local cases announced on the local news. I am lucky enough to be able to work from home occasionally, so I can pull the trigger faster than if I had to go in every day. If I had to go in, I might still impose quarantine and take a couple days of impromptu vacation time.

As stated above, it could take 90+ days to develop a vaccine. For this reason, I think we should have a minimum of 90 days’ supply of food and medicine on hand. The water will probably continue to run, but we should be prepared for waterborne illnesses as well. Having that much water stored is not realistic for 99% of us. Have some stored as well as a means to purify more.

Around the time I started blogging 4 years ago, I read an article that spoke of how woefully ill prepared large communities were for a pandemic. Since that time, some state governments have started taking action. Minnesota is just one of many. I attended a conference on how local hospitals will respond. They said that if any clinic or hospital begins to see an increase in patients with the same symptoms, they activate a call center who then calls other local clinics and hospitals to make them aware and to see if they have any patients to report with those same symptoms.

There are several sites that have been predetermined to use for housing patients. Cots and medical supplies will be brought in quickly. There are caches of medicine scattered around the area, which can be distributed to these locations very quickly when needed. The local media will be kept up to date so they can relay information to the public. There are also various locations around the area that have been chosen as mass vaccine distribution centers. I was also invited to attend a meeting at my church, with high ranking law enforcement officials, local Emergency Managers and medical personnel to discuss the church being one such center. The discussion focused on the best way to quickly and safely distribute the vaccine. One potential option was drive thru style; with people pulling their cars up, vaccine given and they go on their way.

My first thought is that a mass vaccine center is the last place I would want to be. However, when looking at this from a logistical standpoint, it is the fastest way to get the vaccine to the public.

Here is an article from the CDC with information on the Strategic National Stockpile (SNS). While this isn’t a perfect solution, I am glad to see that government is being proactive on this topic.

 
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Flu and Pandemic Preps to Buy Now

We’re turning the corner on summer with fall and winter not far off. The colder seasons bring with them a host of illnesses, including the flu. I have covered “How a True Pandemic May Look” previously. In it, I point out that the H1N1 pandemic wasn’t a true pandemic. The WHO lowered the mortality and morbidity rate. If we see a pandemic the likes of the 1918 pandemic, it will spread farther and faster and, in my opinion, have more of an impact on our society than the earlier pandemics have.

For this reason, I highly recommend that you consider purchasing the items I will list below. They may not keep you and your loved ones from becoming infected but they will offer a lot more protection.
 
 

Flu and Pandemic Preps to Buy Now

Hibiclens

I had an MRSA scare a few years ago. I saw an Infectious Disease Specialist, who introduced me to Hibiclens. Hibiclens can be used for hand washing, surgical site prep, skin wound, general cleanser and surgical scrubbing.

You can read more about it on the clinical information page. Part of the information you will find there is the following:

“Hibiclens kills germs on contact and continues to lower skin microbial counts with repeated use. Its 4.0% chlorhexidine gluconate (CHG) bonds with the skin to create a germ-killing field that keeps killing long after washing/scrubbing.”

In fact later in the clinical information we’re told:

“Hibiclens (4.0% CHG) is the most effective antimicrobial wash providing the longest protection – up to six hours per use1 – that is not neutralized by blood or other organic material.2”

I believe we purchased ours from Amazon but you might be able to find it cheaper elsewhere. There are several sizes but, in my way of thinking, if there is a pandemic, the chances of me being able to order another bottle quickly isn’t high, so I might as well buy a gallon.

I like Hibiclens over any of the hand sanitizers for a few reasons. First, Hibiclens is more than just a hand cleaner. Second, it doesn’t just kill things on contact. It protects for up to six hours after use. Hibiclens is also used to treat MRSA, so it may well be useful against whatever nastiness we see in the future.
 
 
Surgical N-95 NIOSH-certified mask

I covered this mask pretty thoroughly in “The N95 Face Mask”. Not all n95 masks are created equal. The kind you find at the home improvement stores are most likely not Surgical N-95 NIOSH-certified masks. Will they work as well? I honestly don’t know, but if OSHA is suggesting that the people who will be in direct contact with the illness wear the Surgical N-95 NIOSH-certified mask, then I tend to think there is a difference.

As I mention in the article, the N95 masks aren’t really tested against a pandemic because we haven’t had a true pandemic since before the masks were created. While it might not help, it’s not going to hurt. You could give it to the ill to keep their sputum from flying when they cough or sneeze, as well as have the healthy wear them as a precaution.
 
 
Latex Free Gloves

One of the major ways viruses are transmuted is through touching something infected and then touching our faces. These gloves are cheap enough that I can’t see a reason not to have them as a preparation. I would recommend using them in conjunction with Hibiclens to reduce your risk even further.

Some people might want to take things a step further and buy more personal protective equipment (PPE), such as disposable gowns and the like and I can’t see any problems with that.

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Two New Deadly Viruses to Be Aware of

Yahoo news has an article called “2 new viruses could both spark global outbreaks” that details two new deadly viruses. One is a coronavirus related to SARS, about which they had the following to say:

“The coronavirus related to SARS spread to France, where one patient who probably caught the disease in Dubai infected his hospital roommate. Officials are now trying to track down everyone who went on a tour group holiday to Dubai with the first patient as well as all contacts of the second patient. Since it was first spotted last year, the new coronavirus has infected 34 people, killing 18 of them. Nearly all had some connection to the Middle East.”

Here is what they had to say about the other virus:

“At the same time, a new bird flu strain, H7N9, has been infecting people in China since at least March, causing 32 deaths out of 131 known cases.”

Some of what I find concerning is that, as of the time of this writing, there are some theories but it is unknown how the virus is transmitted. The thing I find most alarming is the high mortality rate of each. The coronavirus is killing 50% of those infected and the H7N9 bird flu variant is killing roughly 25%.

The article goes on to say:

“WHO, which is closely monitoring the viruses, says both have the potential to cause a pandemic — a global epidemic — if they evolve into a form easily spread between people. Here’s a crash course in what we know so far about them:”

f you think back a few years to the H1N1 or swine flu, you might remember it was classified as a pandemic. However, the morbidity (infection rate) and mortality (death rate) were lowered to classify it as one. H1N1 had a mortality rate of 9.6%. It did, however, have a much higher morbidity rate than either of the two new viruses.

I have covered pandemic in other articles, so I’ll not rehash it all, but just link to it. First, in “How a True Pandemic May Look”, I explain what we can expect if a true pandemic, similar to those we have seen in history, sets in. In “Review of After Armageddon”, I review a History Channel show that explores what life may look like during and after a pandemic-like event.

Lastly, I covered “The N95 Face Mask”. There are many who push the N95 as a means to limit exposure to contagions. As I explain in that article, health professionals use a variation of the N95 called NIOSH certified. Keep in mind that health professionals use these as a precaution and do not know for sure if it will stop the spread, as they have not been tested against a pandemic.

If you want to keep up-to-date with these or other virus outbreaks, you can do so at WHO Disease Outbreak News (DONs).

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The Flu

Before I get to today’s article I wanted to let you know about a great sale Camping Survival is having on their paracord. with the code “overstock” at checkout. I wrote an article about all the goodness that is paracord called Paracord the King of Cordage.   If paracord is on your list of items to buy, this sale would be a great time to get it.

 

The Flu

Here we are again in the midst of Flu season and it has not yet peaked, according to Centers for Disease Control’s (CDC) National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases.  In fact, current rates of flu and flu-like activity have not been this high in nearly 10 years.  Because of this, I thought I would share some things with you.  Some of you might be old pro’s at all of this, but it is a good reminder for others of us.

 

What should you do during flu season?

  • If you’re ill, please stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone.
  • Wash your hands frequently.
  • Don’t touch your eyes, nose or mouth
  • Disinfect frequently touched places when someone is sick.

 

What are the symptoms of the flu?

  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Body aches
  • Headache
  • Chills
  • Fatigue
  • Sometimes diarrhea and vomiting

 

When should you seek medical treatment?

Luckily, most people who contract the flu won’t need medical attention.  If you have a chronic illness, you should call your doctor and ask for guidance.  Some will suggest immediate treatment.  If your symptoms are bad or getting worse, call your doctor and ask for guidance as well.  The below symptoms are considered emergency warning signs.  If you or someone in your care has these, you should consider seeking medical attention immediately.

In Children

  • Fast breathing or trouble breathing
  • Bluish skin color
  • Not drinking enough fluids
  • Not waking or interacting
  • Being so irritable that the child does not want to be held
  • Flu-like symptoms that improve but then return with fever and worse cough
  • Fever with a rash
  • No tears when crying
  • Significantly fewer wet diapers than normal

In Adults

  • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
  • Pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen
  • Sudden dizziness
  • Confusion
  • Severe or persistent vomiting
  • Flu-like symptoms that improve but return with fever and worse cough

 

Are there medications available?

There are antiviral medications available that can lessen the symptoms and duration of the flu.  They are most effective when taken in the first 48 hours.  There are several over-the-counter medications to help lessen the symptoms.

There are also herbal treatments that may assist as well, here are just a few.

  • Echinacea is believed to reduce the symptoms of Cold and Flu and helps in the recovery.
  • Licorice contains antiviral compounds that release interferons, the bodys own antivirals.
  • Boneset; according to Clinical herbalist, David Hoffmann, boneset is one of the best herbs for influenza because it relieves aches, fever and mucus congestion.

 

Prepper’s and the flu

I have seen a few good articles on the flu that I would like to share.

I also have a link that you can use to track the flu in your area, the the flu near you site.

 

Closing thoughts

The whole “staying home until you’re not contagious” thing gets blown off by many people, but please do.  You’re not only infecting others, but you are putting yourself at greater risk.  The flu can really take its toll, and it can leave your weakened immune system susceptible to contracting something on top of the flu.

 

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Review of After Armageddon

Earlier this year, I wrote an article called “How a True Pandemic May Look”.  In it, I explained, at a macro level, what a pandemic might look like.  JP recently sent me an email containing a link to a site hosting a YouTube video of a History Channel special called “After Armageddon”.  First, let me say that I am not posting the link to the video.  I don’t know how the copyright works with it being on YouTube.  If you want to see it, search YouTube for “After Armageddon”.  There are some videos that are broken up in 8-9 minute sections, but I did see one full length one.  I will be going into detail on some of the information covered, so if you want to watch it without me spoiling it, consider this fair warning.

All that being said, the reason I am bringing up this video is that it takes a very micro level look at how a worldwide pandemic will affect the individual.  Their disclaimer is This Program is a theoretical account of the worst case scenario for global disaster.  This is not a real emergency.”  The premise of the show is that a pandemic with high morbidity and mortality is sweeping across Europe, South America, Russia and Southern Africa.  At first the US government doesn’t acknowledge there are any confirmed cases, but just a couple weeks after the first cases are discovered abroad, there are many affected in the US.

They have a panel of experts talking about the different aspects of how a pandemic will affect everyday life.  The fictional story follows a family from Los Angeles from before there are any acknowledged cases on US soil, to years after the pandemic.  The acting was pretty bad, but I didn’t watch it for the acting.  As the shows disclaimer mentions, this is a theoretical account of a worst case scenario.  I have mentioned before that a pandemic is one of the “big ones” that concerns me the most.   We have had them multiple times in human history, and it could take weeks to months to produce a vaccine.  World travel is easier than ever before, so spreading of a pandemic would be faster than at any other time.  That being said, a large-scale, true pandemic, such as the one in 1918, is a very rare thing.

I used this show to play the “what would I do” game.  While some of the decisions the family in the show makes are not decisions I would have made, putting yourself in different scenarios and deciding the best course of action is a great way to practice “survival thinking”.

The show covered a wide range of topics throughout the entire show, touching on such things as security throughout.  I am going to cover some of the general topics instead of going along the timeline the show used.

 

Healthcare

As I mentioned, the show has a pandemic spreading worldwide after only three weeks.  Because a trip that used to take weeks can now be made in less than a day, it is completely possible for someone who is newly infected to travel to another country before they begin to show signs of sickness.  As the pandemic is really taking hold in America they say that many healthcare professionals will not show up for work.  After some time, hospitals may close their doors and not take any new patients in.  This is in part because they are full and have no more room, because they don’t have any way of treating patients and partly due to lack of staffing.  When I went through CERT, the county emergency manager said that it is expected that as many as 30% of first responders and healthcare professionals won’t go in to work.  This could be due to fear of catching the illness or because either a loved one or they, themselves, have gotten sick.

The show said that the number of dead bodies would be overwhelming, with no one to come and remove them.  I think this could be true.  Also, what would you do with them all?  The only thing I can think of is mass graves.  If you live in a town of 10,000 and the pandemic had a morbidity rate of 30% and a mortality rate of 10% that would mean that your town alone would see 300 people die from the pandemic.   It is easy to see how healthcare and those who deal with the deceased could be quickly overwhelmed.

As I mentioned, the show covered a large time frame.  One of the things they said would take place months to years after the pandemic had run its course was that there would be limited healthcare, maybe going back to what it was in the early twentieth century.  People would get sick and die from things they haven’t in ten to twenty years.  A cut that becomes infected could be deadly.

 

Preparedness

In the show, the father is a paramedic and goes to work one day to be told that the hospital has shut down.  He sneaks in and when he sees all the sick people his eyes are opened to how bad the situation is.  He goes to the store and buys whatever supplies he can find.  One of the commentators makes the statement that I am sure many of you have heard, “the average family has roughly around three days of food in their home”.  He then says, “To really go to ground you need three months or more”.  Since most of us are aware of the need to have much more than three days stored, I am going to leave this alone.

The family decides to self-quarantine until the crime rate and loss of electricity pushes them to flee for the wife’s sister in Idaho.  They soon find the major highways out of the city gridlocked and must find an alternate route.  I bring this up because, while I think that in most situations battening down is the better choice, you should know multiple routes to bug out.  These routes, as one of the commentators puts it, “should be the road less traveled.”

Along the way the family is forced to abandon the SUV and carry very little of their supplies.  The commentators talk about only carrying what is needed and that you may be forced to loot the things to keep you alive.   I wrote an article called “Is it ever okay to loot or salvage”.  If you have never considered this subject, I recommend reading that article.

It is also mentioned that you will have to think of non-traditional places to get water.  Hotel pools and water heaters are mentioned and the father gets some water from a car radiator, which is not an option for most of the year in northern states.

I’ll explain this more in the next section, but in the show, the power goes out for good and oil shipments are no more.  Due to this, it is mentioned that we will need to learn the skills our grandparents knew.  This is in relation to growing and harvesting food.  I have no way to prove this, but I imagine that just two generation ago most people either canned or knew someone who did.  I bet today there is maybe one in twenty who does.

 

Infrastructure

As I mentioned above the family decided to self-quarantine and would have stayed home had the rising crime and lack of power not driven them out.  It was said that there are 102 nuclear power plants in the US, and only 5000 people know how to run them.  Due to staff and fuel shortages there are multiple power station failures.  The show didn’t get into this but it is important to be aware of.  Nuclear power plants have large generators on site to keep the pumps running that keep the rods cool.  I have heard that these generators have a two week supply of diesel on site.  If the power doesn’t come back on line before the fuel runs out and if there is no more diesel brought in, we could be looking at a very serious situation at the end of those two weeks.

Related to the power stopping is the Internet going down.  This would impact just about every aspect of life.  I’m not talking just about email and surfing.  So many companies have integrated the internet into their business, from scheduling to inventory management, air traffic control to power management of remote systems.

Because there is no power, the water stops pumping.  This means that the toilets stop working.  The family in the show is forced to bury their waste outside.  One of the commentators says something to the affect “that due to the lack of a working sewage system this adds to the spreading of disease not associated with the pandemic.”

There is also a mention of the lack of oil and power to push water to irrigation systems.  In terms of growing food, we would be back to the 1850’s.  It is said that “without irrigation farms become wastelands.”  Because of the lack of running water for irrigation, famine pushes the death toll even higher after the pandemic has run its course.

 

Society

One commentator remarks on lessons learned from hurricane Katrina (this might have been two different commentators, but the gesture is the same). “Katrina showed us how thin the polite veneer is.  It took four days to descend into anarchy.”  Another comment is made that “we’re only nine meals away from anarchy.”  I think three to four days sounds about right.  Watching your loved ones go hungry for three days or going hungry yourself for that long could drive people to use violence to try and get what they don’t have to survive.

They said that towns might take up arms, shut their borders and not allow anyone to enter or exit.  This will be done to prevent any sick from entering and also to keep Joe Dirtbag out.  In smaller towns, community food would be rationed and a triage would be set up to determine who will get to eat and how much they may get to eat.  Authority is local and can be guaranteed as long as there is a local Sheriff who is effective.  In one scene, bandits break in to steal from a small town.  They are caught and the sheriff executes them in the middle of the street.

One of the commentators, whom I believe was a professor said, “Both in destruction phase and in rebuilding phase, religion will be very popular.”  There will be a lot of apocalyptic sermons and the pandemic blamed on the sins of the past.  I think this is probably true.  I remember hearing how full churches were after 9-11.

 

Security

It is said that violence will become the norm and security becomes the most important aspect.  When the family begins to run out of food, the husband goes in search of some.   He sees just how much things have deteriorated and begins to throw clothes out in the yard,  explaining to his wife how bad it is and that they have to make the house look like its already been looted and vandalized.

One night the son sees people going through their neighbor’s house and they decide to leave the next day for the wife’s sister’s home in Idaho.   As I mentioned above, they find the main route clogged and attempt another route, which ends up having a “road block” with armed men who start firing shots as the SUV turns around to avoid them.  It is said that “the road less traveled is preferred”, and that “not being seen is preferable to trying to fight.”

The commentators talk of “people forming gangs to obtain the resources they need.” And another said “They’ll be looking for food, they’ll be looking for drugs, they’ll be looking for gold or silver or something thing will have value after.”  The husband tried to barter with someone to get some food and finds that cash is worthless.  The people (thugs) with the food were still interested in his watch.

One of the commentators said something I didn’t know, or at least hadn’t thought of this way; “In a famine situation, children are often the most dangerous.  They are the most prone to violence.”

 

Final Thoughts

While I didn’t learn anything new, I think this show is worth watching and I am glad I did.  A pandemic happening in the manner they depict is something I pray we never see.  Those who read this article or visit other preparedness sites might be better prepared for it, but all of humanity will feel the impact.

 

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How the Twin Cities Prepares for Pandemic

During CERT (Community Emergency Response Team) training, which I’ll be writing an article on soon, I gained insight into how mass dispensing of inoculations, antibiotics etc. will go in the Twin Cities.

If a hospital sees multiple patients come in with the same symptoms, depending on those symptoms, a call will be made and all hospitals will monitor for patients coming in with the same set of symptoms.

As time goes on, and depending on the influx of people, overflow centers can be set up very quickly at predetermined locations. There are also caches of various medicines ready to be deployed to the overflow facilities. There are select locations that people can be directed to go for inoculations or antibiotics.

I didn’t get to take part in either of them but there have been a couple of drills to work out the kinks. From what I understand the first was a bit rocky, which is to be expected, but the second went a bit smoother.

I have to say I am impressed that these types of plans, events and scenarios are being worked on in my area. I really hope they are in other metropolitan areas. I pray they are never put to use.

What Would You DO? Your Neighborhood Has Been Quarantined

The hospitals and clinics in your city have been in communication and have seen a rapid increase in a specific set of symptoms in patients coming in over the last 24 hours. The governor has been alerted and he and local city officials have called for quarantine in your city and a neighboring city. The National Guard has been called out to help enforce it and to aid in delivering food and water and medicine to those in need. Citizens are to remain in their homes until further notice.

So, what would you do?

(Check the comments section to see my thoughts and anyone else’s thoughts as well as to add your own.)

 

The N95 Face Mask

Any time there is a pandemic scare, we see people on TV wearing face masks. But do they actually do anything? In most cases, the answer is no because the type of mask that people are wearing is just a dust mask. There is a type of mask that may offer some protection; the N95 particulate respirator. There are several types of N95 particulate respirator masks available. The NIOSH (National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health) approved N95 is one of these.

According to the UCLA Department of Epidemiology:

“The “N95″ has a government efficiency rating that means the mask blocks about 95 percent of particles that are 0.3 microns in size or larger.”

Will the N95 be effective against a pandemic?

From the OSHA Fact Sheet on Healthcare Workplaces Classified as Very High or High Exposure Risk for Pandemic Influenza

“Use NIOSH-certified respirators that are N95 or higher. When both fluid protection (e.g., blood splashes) and respiratory protection are needed, use a “surgical N95″ respirator that has been certified by NIOSH and cleared by the FDA.”

Did you catch the NIOSH-Certified? The CDC has a Healthcare Workplaces Classified as Very High or High Exposure Risk for Pandemic Influenza,it explains that not all N95 masks are created equal.

“How are NIOSH-Approved Particulate Filtering Respirators Classified?

Your employer may have told you that respiratory protection is needed because of inhalation hazards from airborne particles, which may include infectious agents. NIOSH-approved particulate filtering respirators can be used to protect you from these hazards. It is important for you to understand the classification system of NIOSH-approved respirators that use filters to remove particles from the air that is breathed through them.

There are ten classes of NIOSH-approved particulate filtering respirators available at this time. 95% is the minimal level of filtration approved by NIOSH. The N, R and P designations refer to the filter’s oil resistance as described in the table below.”

Also from OSHA on their effectiveness on Pandemic

“It should be noted that there is limited information on the use of surgical masks for the control of a pandemic in settings where there is no identified source of infection. There is no information on respirator use in such scenarios since modern respirators did not exist during the last pandemic. However, respirators are now routinely used to protect employees against occupational hazards, including biological hazards such as tuberculosis, anthrax, and hantavirus. The effectiveness of surgical masks and respirators has been inferred on the basis of the mode of influenza transmission, particle size, and professional judgment.”

Making and Keeping the Mask Effective
The most important thing when wearing any type of mask is having a tight seal, this will force the air you breathe through the respirator. The masks are meant for short term use and will break down in time; moisture from sweat will accelerate the breakdown.

Will I Wear a Mask in the Event of a Pandemic?

I agree with Patrick Breysse, an industrial hygienist at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health:

“He keeps N95 masks around the house for doing odd jobs. “If there were an event tomorrow, and I was in my home, I would seal my home as best I could,” he says, “and if I had one of these masks, I would put it on. Because why not?”

If this is a high concern for you, you should look for a gas mask with filters. That will offer much more protection than the N95, but they are not cheap and you will need multiple filters.

On a related note:
While the regular N95 masks might not be suitable in a pandemic, they still offer better protection from dust and other particles than a regular dust mask. Also, an N95 will keep your glasses from fogging up.

How a True Pandemic May Look

A pandemic is one of the “big” scenarios that concerns me the most. The reasons for my concern are: 1) We have had multiple pandemics throughout world history, 2) Modern ease of travel can quickly spread a pandemic and, 3) The super bugs that modern antibiotics are ineffective against. Because of the last two concerns, if we have a true pandemic, things could get ugly very quickly.

I’m sure you remember the Swine Flu or H1N1 pandemic. In the 07/21/09 issue of the German Weekly, Der Spiegel, there was an Interview with Epidemiologist Tom Jefferson

“SPIEGEL: Do you think the WHO declared a pandemic prematurely?

Jefferson: Don’t you think there’s something noteworthy about the fact that the WHO has changed its definition of pandemic? The old definition was a new virus, which went around quickly, for which you didn’t have immunity, and which created a high morbidity and mortality rate. Now the last two have been dropped, and that’s how swine flu has been categorized as a pandemic. “
The morbidity rate is the amount of the population that has an illness or disease. The mortality rate is the amount of people killed by an illness or disease.”

From LiveScience.com
“There are currently 28,774 cases in 74 countries, according to the latest WHO statistics. (There are 13,217 cases in the United States, with 27 deaths.)

Declaring a pandemic is a big official deal, so big that this is the first global flu epidemic in 41 years (the last one was the “Hong Kong flu” which killed 1 million people). A pandemic is something like a global version of an epidemic, which is a disease outbreak in a specific community or region or population. “

So if H1N1 wasn’t a pandemic, what does one look like? As mentioned, the “Hong Kong flu” killed 1 million people:

The 1968-1969 pandemic The Hong Kong Flu
“In comparison to other pandemics, the Hong Kong flu yielded a low death rate, with a case-fatality ratio below 0.5% making it a category 2 disease on the Pandemic Severity Index. The pandemic infected an estimated 500,000 Hong Kong residents, 15% of the population.[4] In the United States, approximately 33,800 people died.”

While there was a tragic loss of life, this was only a class 2 pandemic, and the loss of life was mostly seen in Hong Kong.

Pandemic of 1918-1919
“The 1918 pandemic killed an estimated 20-50 million people worldwide, including 675,000 in the United States. The pandemic’s most striking feature was its unusually high death rate among otherwise healthy people aged 15-34. During normal seasonal flu outbreaks, severe complications and death are most common among the elderly and young children.“

Superbugs
I like About.com ‘s definition of superbug:

“Definition: A strain of bacteria that is resistant to one or more antibiotic(s) that would normally treat the bacteria”

It goes on to explain how superbugs are caused and why they are a problem:

“The increasing emergence of superbugs is a direct consequence of antibiotic misuse. Misuse of an antibiotic results in incomplete elimination of bacterial infections, which, in turn, leads to survival of strains of bacteria that have evolved to resist that antibiotic. Superbugs can be dangerous because of the limited number of treatment options available. Among some of the more common superbugs are methicillin-resistant Staph aureus (MRSA) and multiple-drug or extensively drug resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB and XDR-TB).”

More on antibiotic misuse from the Mayo Clinic:“If antibiotics are used too often for things they can’t treat — like colds, flu or other viral infections — they become less effective against the bacteria they’re intended to treat. Not taking antibiotics exactly as prescribed also leads to problems. For example, if you take an antibiotic for only a few days — instead of the full course — the antibiotic may wipe out some but not all of the bacteria. The surviving bacteria become more resistant and can be spread to other people.”

What Can We Expect in a True Pandemic?

If there was an illness that had both high morbidity and mortality rate, say morbidity of H1N1 and the mortality rate of SARS (which had a mortality rate of 9.6%), I believe we would quickly see a domino effect. Schools would close as soon as there was one infected student reported (this happened in multiple schools with H1N1). It is also possible that truckers would not want to risk catching the new bug and decide to stay at home, instead of delivering food and other supplies to infected areas.

Think about your company and every company you interact with having 30% of the workforce sick and not at work. That doesn’t take into consideration people that must take off work to help a sick family member or those that would call in sick out of fear. Now maybe you can see the blow this would have on the economy.

It is possible that quarantines would be installed to try and keep the morbidity rate as low as possible. Which could make it interesting as this study cited by the Los Angeles Times states that First-responders are needed in a pandemic, but not all may want to work, a study finds.

“When asked about willingness to work various shifts, 35% said they wouldn’t be willing to work any shift. And 12% of participants said they’d rather quit or retire early than report for duty.”

What Can We Do?
We can be ready to take care of ourselves and not be a drain on a system that could very well be taxed to the limits. By taking care of ourselves I mean things like having a minimum of 90 days food stored, having over-the-counter medication stored to give some comfort and aid to any family member that might become sick.

We can also be ready to self-quarantine our families if we see the morbidity and mortality numbers begin to climb. If you cannot self-quarantine, then wash your hands often, use the anti-germ gel as well and touch your face as little as possible. Try to avoid contact with others.

If there is a true pandemic there will be a lot of fear in the populace. People are dangerous when they’re afraid, so even if there is a quarantine there very well could be those willing to break curfew to look for food or other supplies. We should also be ready to protect our family from the grasshoppers.

Here is a little light reading, it is some of the articles I have read in research of pandemic and superbugs.

PandemicFlu.gov

Hong Kong Keeps Ban on Some Chinese Poultry Imports After Flu Link Found

Drug-Resistant ‘Super Bug’ Hits LA County Hospitals, Nursing Homes

U.N. agency warns of possible bird flu resurgence

Yahoo News: Disfiguring tropical disease surges.

Scientists Find New Superbug Spreading From India, there are almost no drugs to treat it.

Also a new flu virus found in India, believed to come from Australia.

Yet a third virus found: “New Unknown Virus Killed 35 in India and 30 in Ukraine”.