At its worst, a global swine flu pandemic’s costs would be greater than a terrorist attack, a nuclear accident or environmental disaster. The World Health Organisation estimates that even a mild pandemic could cause up to 7.5 million deaths. A severe pandemic could result in the death of tens of millions, especially if this strain of swine flu proves to be as deadly as it seems to have been in Mexico. Civil society could be strained if a full blown panic breaks out.
Of course, these are what you might calll the “adverse case” scenarios. In the last global flu pandemics in 1957 and 1968, the costs were far milder. There was no widespread panic, major urban areas did not become depopulated, borders weren’t sealed, travel did not halt and economies didn’t suffer devastating depressions. In the current outbreak, swine flu has mysteriously proved more deadly in Mexico but not as deadly elsewhere.
Nonetheless, the question you should be asking yourself is: how can I survive a swine flu pandemic?
Importantly, much of what the government advises is not intended to help you survive but to prevent the spread of swine flu and prevent you from spreading it if you get infected. Think about it. When the government tells you that you should cover your mouth when you sneeze or stay home if you are sick, they aren’t telling you how to survive. They are trying to prevent you from infecting others.
What you want are survival tips. We spoke to two doctors and a scientist specializing in viral transmission to get these tips on what may help you survive and what probably won’t.
- Don’t Get Swine Flu. This may seem obvious but it’s worth emphasising: the best thing you can do is avoid getting swine flu. Do not go anywhere near individuals known to be infected. Avoid places, such as hospitals, where those who believe they are infected are likely to go. Unless necessary, do not travel to Mexico or any other place where swine flu has become highly concentrated. You should also consider avoiding sporting events, concerts or any other place where massive amounts of people will gather. Unfortunately, large trading floors at exchanges and even within investment banks may become hazardous if the outbreaks in urban areas become severe.
- Hand Hygene Will Help A Bit. Washing you hands may help a bit. Unfortunately, you are probably washing your hands wrong. You need to use very hot water, hot enough to make you uncomfortable, for at least half a minute. Think of surgeons prepping for an operation. Mildly warm water and ordinary soap will do very little. You should carry an alcohol based hand sanitizer, and use it frequently. Do not, however, be over-confident about hand sanitizer. Swine flu has an airborne component, which means you could be infected even if you kept your hands in your pockets.
- Know The Symptoms. No, you aren’t going to start oinking and you won’t develop a pig snout. The symptoms of swine flu are very much like any other flu. You may have swine flu if you experience one or more of the following symptoms: fever, cough, sore throat, body aches, headache, chills, fatigue, diarrhoea or vomiting.
- Face Masks May Help A Bit, At First. Those surgical face masks you see people wearing in Mexico will not prevent transmission if you come in close contact with swine flu. The virus is small enough that it easily passes through the mask. If they work at all, they work to prevent the already infected from expelling the virus through their own sneezes. Ironically, people will probably shy away from you if you are an early adoptef of face mask wearing. This extra personal space may help you avoid swine flu. But once masks become widespread, this benefit will no longer apply.
- Anti-Viral Drugs. There are two main anti-viral drugs that may be somewhat effective against swine flu, Tamiflu and Relenza. Tamiflu is a pill, while Relenza is an inhalant. Unfortunately, the effectiveness of these drugs against this strain of flu virus is yet known. Drugs developed specifically for this strain will take several months to come online. There is some danger of a negative reaction to the drugs. Perhaps the biggest problem is that these need to be taken within 48 hours of the onset of symptoms, which means that if you plan to take anti-virals you should not try to ride out illness to see if it becomes severe. If you have a fever and want to use anti-virals, seek them immediately.
- Vitamin C. Most mainstream medical professionals will tell you that taking Vitamin C will not prevent swine flu. No one seriously disagrees with that. Homeopathic and alternative medicine types, however, claim that taking massive amounts of Vitamin C may help your immune system combat the flu. Health consultant Jonathan Campbell recommends that you start taking 1000 mgs of Vitamin C immediately, and increasing your dosage from there. Unfortunately, this amount of Vitamin C poses its own health risks, possibly leading to diarrhoea and dehydration.
- Vaccines. There is no existing vaccine for this strain of swine flu. A vaccine may be available when the second or third wave of swine flu hits this fall and winter. However, previous vaccines against swine flu turned out to be more dangerous than the disease. The 1976 infected 200 people, hospitalising 12 people and killing one. But 40 million people were been vaccinated, resulting in 25 deaths and at least 500 cases of Guillain-Barre syndrome, which can be fatal. Until the risks of a new vaccine are known, you should avoid being vaccinated and refuse any vaccination you are offered.
- Have food and water ready. In any crisis, from a bad storm to a deadly viral outbreak, it is a good idea to have at least a few days of food and water ready. There’s no need to panic about the food supply, but you shouldn’t be shy about buying some soup. Your water supply probably won’t be interuppted but having a couple of gallons of water in a cabinet won’t hurt you.
Hopefully armed with this information you will be better prepared not to panic if the outbreak becomes severe.