Saturday, October 4, 2014

And So It Begins...

We now have our Ebola Patient Zero in the United States. Already we are beginning to see panic on social media sites, especially among people who have seen the current Administration fumble so many important things in recent days. Can a CDC that's mislabeled vials of viable anthrax spores and sent them to non-secure facilities be relied upon to handle one of the world's most infectious diseases (requiring as few as ten virus particles per exposure to result in the patient coming down with it)? Can an Administration that's been caught lying and covering up on other important things be trusted to tell the truth about the preparedness of the nation's medical system for this threat?

Particularly given the horrific nature of Ebola (in its end stage, the victim's tissues literally turn to mush and disintegrate), there's an atavistic urge to flee, to swathe ourselves in bubble wrap, to shut out the world and hope to wait it out until the whole mess blows over. Obviously it's not practical to shut ourselves away indefinitely from the outside world, so what can we do to protect ourselves?

First, get the facts. Fear thrives on misinformation, and half-knowledge often leads the imagination to paint things in far darker colors than the actual situation. If you don't trust the CDC or other US government agencies to provide accurate, factual information, seek out the websites of other countries' government health agencies, of privately run hospitals such as the Mayo Clinic, and of international health groups such as Doctors Without Borders.

Second, take basic sanitary precautions and be rigorous about them. Wash your hands regularly, particularly after using the bathroom and before eating.

Third, make basic preparations for a disruption in basic services. If things were to prove worse than anticipated, it is possible that the United States could experience a general quarantine period similar to the one in Tom Clancey's Executive Orders in which nobody would be allowed to leave their immediate area. Most grocery stores have only a day's supply of basic goods, and even the local warehouses have only a few days' supply -- a problem we see whenever a hurricane or winter storm disrupts the transportation of goods into the area.

Preparing means first knowing what you need. Food is an obvious one, but also think about the toiletries and cleaning supplies you and your family use in a week. Things can get very nasty, very fast if you run out of toilet paper or dishwashing soap. Also, make sure to lay in an adequate supply of water for your family. Municipal water supplies may be interrupted or contaminated in an emergency, and you don't want to be in a situation where desperate thirst would drive you to drink from contaminated sources. Also, think about any medicines you or family members may need. Can you make sure that you'll have an adequate supply on hand if you can't get to the pharmacy for days or weeks?

The key think is don't panic, but be prepared.

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