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Tuesday, April 28, 2009

SHTF: Swine Flu Scenarios

The news headlines are clear: Swine Flu Spreading

No questions there. Cases are popping up all over the U.S., in Israel, New Zealand, Scotland and many other places. So far, the fatalities have been limited to Mexico.

In 1918, the world saw the first flu virus pandemic with the Spanish Influenza breakout that year. The virus first manifested itself in the spring of 1918, went nearly dormant in the summer and then exploded in the autumn.

Could it happen again?

Some say what happened in 1918 could not happen in 2009 because we have a better healthcare system, instant communication, a nationwide health apparatus (the CDC) designed to deal with communicable diseases, and improved hygene practices.

It is for these reasons and others, I think that a 1918 type viral outbreak could be worse.

First, the U.S. healthcare system is already overtaxed. With so many people using the emergency room for primary care, an outbreak would quickly overwhelm the system. In addition, costs have closed several hospitals and clinics already.

Yes, we have instant communication, but that same medium propagates rumors that much faster. Some joker could spread a story on the Internet that the virus is being spread at a certain location, or city or through a product and watch the people panic.

The CDC may have good doctors and workers on staff, but since it is in the best interest of the nation not to have panic, what is to prevent them from burying the story about what is really happening? Ever read the Stand by Stephen King?

And what about hygiene? A friend reports that nearly every illness gets spread through his children's elementary school like wildfire partially due to poor hygiene practices. Both natives and new immigrants to our country all have different ideas about "clean" constitutes. One may bathe every day and another once a week and so on. And despite the governments warnings the flu is spreading faster every day.

Here is something else to consider. In 1918, a large portion of the country lived in rural and semi-rural areas. Many were never effected by the Spanish Influenza due to their proximity from the virus. Compare that to today where millions are sequestered in packed cities, housed in massive apartment buildings, are packed like sardines in overcrowded schools and occupying high rise building offices sharing each others germs passed conveniently through central air and heating systems.

Imagine this scenario:
Child goes to inner city school where another child has been exposed to the virus and left at school by parents who both have to work. Infected child spreads the flu to one hundred other children who take it back to their apartment buildings and city homes. Within twenty four hours, thousands have been exposed who then take the flu onto mass transit buses and trains spreading the illness around even more. Office and factory workers share the virus and the ripples grow larger and larger.

As workers and children get sick, critical care and public safety workers succumb to the flu and start missing work. City services like garbage and traffic go unattended. Electricity and water service become spotty which further exaserbates the problem. Within a week, thousands pack cars and suitcases and head out of the city "until things blow over". The roads and interstates are packed. Cars full of the sick began flooding into smaller nearby towns and quickly overwhelm health care facilities.

Small towns begin to quarantine themselves. The government declares curfews and looting begins in unprotected areas. Things start to unravel..

Could it happen? It has before. Look at Medieval Europe when the Black Death spread across the continent. Whole towns and villages were emptied in a few months.

Best get prepared and think of the worse case scenario before things go downhill. Do you have food and water stocked? Cash on hand? Gasoline in the car? Plenty of OTC medicines, disinfectants, and cleaning products?

Hopefully, this flu bug will move on and never become anything more than an annoying spring bug. But is best to have a pandemic plan ready just in case.


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