Imagine this: The Asian bird flu has evolved so that it passes from person to person, spread by sneezing. Cases have begun to show up in the US, and last week, a dozen people in your state were hospitalized with the same deadly virus.
With talk of pandemic flu on every TV channel, the health commissioner has ordered emergency steps to stop the spread: Doctors, nurses, police and firefighters will report to work. Almost everyone else must stay home. Schools and daycares will close, as well as most businesses. Any stores that do stay open quickly sell out.
How would all of this affect your family? Would you go to work? If so, who would look after your children? If you're staying home, would you look after your neighbor's kids while she works at the hospital? What would your elderly parents do? What would you eat for the two or three weeks it takes for the highest risk of infection to pass? If the pandemic started tomorrow, how long would it take you to figure all this out?
I'm don't mean be a prophet of doom. Unlike nuclear war, pandemic flu is one of those disasters where it really does pay to prepare. Getting ready for a disaster means admitting that it might truly happen. With pandemic flu, most experts don't say if, they say when.
With this in mind, a couple weeks ago I bit the bullet and drove to Costco. There, for $123.99, I got enough peanut butter, canned chicken breasts, garbanzo beans, spaghetti, oatmeal and other stuff to last my wife and me for three weeks. Since we're both doctors, I also went online and bought two boxes of paper masks that filter out droplets. They cost $24 a box.
Along with the food, I have the following:
- Several gallons of drinking water
- Basic medical supplies, like bandages, antibiotic ointment, and ibuprofen
- A stock of toilet paper, paper towels, soap and other cleaning supplies
- A couple of good flashlights and some candles, in case of a power failure
Since we don't have children at home, we don't need diapers, wipes and formula, or a box of special toys and art supplies. But there are still some important details we haven't taken care of yet -- like making a plan for our kid in college, and making sure that our close friends and family are as ready as they can be.
Like lots of people I know, I tend to cope with scary things by closing my eyes. But since I'm in the business of giving advice, I figured I had better take it, too. And I'm glad I did. For a little work and not too much money, I bought a good bit of security. Plus, when we ran out of spaghetti sauce a couple of days later, I had plenty of it stashed away!
To learn more about pandemic flu and what you can do, check out http://www.pandemicflu.gov/