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February 18, 2006

Start Thinking about the Elbow Dance

Odds are, the bird flu is coming our way, folks.  Despite all our best attempts to deny the occasional news clips or think it’s only bad for the birds or even say that this is all a government scare ploy, the reality is that we are likely to see a full-fledged bird flu break-out amongst humans in the next several years, possibly as early as this next year. 

So, in the midst of everything else we do in our lives, it might be time to start preparing on a personal level.  God knows, we can’t count on the national government to help.  The local governments might be more useful but we will be left to our own devices a lot even so.   

Bloomberg News has a summary of where we are with the spread of the bird flu to humans:

A total of 91 of the 169 people known to have been infected with the H5N1 strain since late 2003 have died, mainly in Southeast Asia, according to the World Health Organization Web site, last updated on Feb. 13. . . . Most of the people who have contracted the virus handled infected poultry or came in contact with their excrement.

It’s spreading quickly and widely amongst birds around the world and the more birds have it, the more risk there is that it will jump to humans who are not in close contact with poultry.  Again, from the Bloomberg article:

New outbreaks in birds are being reported daily across Europe, the Middle East and western Asia, creating more opportunity for human infection and increasing the risk of the virus changing into a pandemic form. The latest death in Iraq brings to 10 the number of fatalities confirmed this month, the highest since February 2004, when 14 deaths were reported.

``We don't know, but it might only take a very limited number of mutations for it to eventually be transmissible efficiently from human to human,'' potentially triggering a pandemic, Professor Albert Osterhaus, head of the department of virology at the Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam, said in a phone interview yesterday.

Here’s one forecast about the potential damage:

A worst-case scenario bird flu pandemic could wipe US$4.4 trillion off global economic output and kill more than 140 million people, according to an Australian report on the macroeconomic fall-out of an influenza pandemic.

The Guardian has an updated country-by-country scan of what’s happening and links to several additional resources.

So, how do we think about preparing for this awful possibility for ourselves and our families and communities? 

It’s been suggested that once we get into a serious pandemic, much will change about the way we live and manage our daily lives and the distance we put between ourselves and others.  For the length of a serious pandemic, which might be as short as 6 weeks or as long as 18 months, we will likely be observing what is called “social distancing”: no regular schools; working from home if working at all; avoiding public places, including grocery stores and pharmacies; and entertaining ourselves at home.  There may also be severe shortages of foods and other goods or they may only be available intermittently.

I am going to do some research on this locally but I am trusting that we will have water, electricity and law enforcement most of the time.  Some people are not ready to count on even that.  I don’t know how we will know until it occurs.

I started stocking up on water and food last year, not a lot but a little just to get my mind wrapped around the idea.  And I ordered masks and gloves on-line in bulk and passed them out to all my relatives.  Note: last fall it took a month or two for them to arrive, the sellers were so backed up, so it might be a good idea to start on that now.  Easy to find with google.

Next, I’m, going for batteries, industrial strength flashlights, some serious food storage and stashing some cash away.

The folks who are way ahead of me have created something called the FluWiki, which has information about everything you could ever want to know about the avian bird flu: statistics, charts, articles, survival information, info on community planning, everything.   

Oh, and that elbow dance?

I was fighting off a cold/flu this last week after a weekend with the delightful 2-year old niece.  Mostly I hunkered down at home but I had a few meetings I didn’t want to miss so I went anyway and just told folks I couldn’t hug or shake hands.  I’d heard people talk about tapping elbows as an alternate way of greeting each other whenever the bird flu gets closer so I tried it out with people I was meeting with either as I met them or left them and people were fine with it.  It became almost a game and one friend, Ben, made a little dance out of it.  It was fun.  It makes it easier to casually insert talk about the bird flu, something I’d been trying to figure out how to do for awhile.

Posted by Lynn Allen on February 18, 2006 at 11:34 AM in Washington Culture | Permalink

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