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How To Prepare For Swine Flu

I wrote this for the Co-op, but I thought it was something so important – and something many of you would appreciate – so I’m posting it here as well!


Last night my family ate dinner in a Mexican restaurant, where the television was tuned to news about swine flu. We watched images of eerily empty public streets in downtown Mexico City, a city normally bustling with activity. My husband and I went there on our honeymoon. What a an amazing city it is, with a rich culture full of wonderful people.


I’m sure most of us have been reading about swine flu on the news, watching the television reports, listening to radio reports. There seem to be three main responses to the possible threat of a global pandemic: fear, humor, or indifference. I admit my mind travels back and forth between all three. And that’s ok.

But if you listen closely, you’ll hear the same phrase we heard during the avian flu outbreaks in Asia a couple of years ago: “it’s not a question of if, but when.” There may not be a flu pandemic this spring, there may not be a flu pandemic next winter, but given the way our society works today, there will be a flu pandemic in the not too distant future. I say this not to strike fear, but to remind us all that this is the reality of our world, so that we can take actions to keep our families and friends safe and healthy.


Originally uploaded by Eneas on Flickr

How Do We Prepare?

1. Emotional Preparedness

My graduate thesis project in 2006 focused on how to prepare for a global catastrophe such as a flu pandemic. Above all else, the number one way to prepare for this kind of a possibility is: to be emotionally prepared.

The first thing that happens to most people in a disaster is that your mind doesn’t work the way it normally does – you enter into a state of confusion, or sometimes shock. Children and adults both do this. So, what you need to do ahead of time is to prepare your family, and to talk about what you would do if something like this were to happen. Let your children play an active role in this discussion so that they remember it, and so that they aren’t fearful.

Before having this discussion, you should do some research about the possible scenarios of a pandemic. Pandemics can be fairly mild, like the 1968-69 Hong Kong Flu, or they can be quite severe, like the 1918 Spanish Flu (which was, incidentally, the H1N1 strain we are seeing in the current cases of swine flu). Don’t scare yourself to much when you read about them, but you should know what could happen: life could go on fairly normally, or your city could shut down entirely, or it could be anywhere in between.

Once you know the possibilities, think through the possible scenarios in your head: what would you do? What would you need? How would you get ahold of your family if phone lines were jammed? Who could pick up your children? Where is the nearest hospital? Is there a family member’s house that is better suited in an emergency, and could you go there for a while if you needed to?

These are not pleasant thoughts, I know. No one likes to think about the negative things that could happen. But this can save your family’s life, and make things a lot easier for everyone if something like a pandemic were to happen.


Originally uploaded by NewsHour on Flickr

2. Physical Preparedness

There is a ton of information available about physical preparedness, including some great posts here at the co-op, so I will be brief here.

Since you have now researched what has happened in the past pandemics, you know the possible scenarios. You could end up in a quarantined area for weeks on end. You could have water or electrical lines that don’t work – and nobody can come fix them. Banks, schools, hospitals, groceries, gas stations, and public transportation systems all may be closed. Again, not to scare yourself, but simply to know what might happen so you can prepare for it.

Things to do now:

1.  Make sure good hygenic practices are ingrained into your family’s routines.


2. Keep your children home if they are sick, and stay home if you are sick.


3.  Save up enough money to get by on a loss of income for at least a month or two, in case your workplace closes or you are not able to work.


4. Prepare an emergency contact list of family, close friends, physicians, pharmacies, and veterinarians. Here is a good template to use. Also plan who will take care of your children if you are severely sick – make sure you make solid plans with that person now, just in case.


5. Keep your gas tank consistently full.


6. Plant a four-season garden to keep fresh, nutritious foods at home.


7. Think about each essential service you need as a family (including pets), and store two weeks worth of it in your basement, garage, closet, or cupboard:

- Non-perishable foods and baby formulas

- Prescription drugs

- Vitamins and any non-prescription drugs you take regularly

- Water – 1 gallon per person per day in clean plastic containers

- First Aid kit, including pain relievers, fever reducers, cough and cold medicines, fluids with electrolytes, thermometer, and anti-diarrheal medication.

- A small amount of cash in case ATMs and banks are closed

- Pet food and litter

- Portable radio (hand-cranked is best)

- Alcohol-based hand cleaner

- Flashlight

- Batteries

- Manual can opener

- Garbage bags

- Toilet paper, disposable diapers

- Respirators and/or N-95 masks (the only type of mask that filters airborne pathogens)

- Vinyl or latex gloves

- Books, games, crafts, and school supplies

- Printed out instructions about how to care for someone with influenza at home

Originally uploaded by NewsHour on Flickr

3. Community Preparedness

Remember: “A pandemic would touch every aspect of society, so every part of society must begin to prepare.” – Centers For Disease Control.

  1. Neighborhood: The closer-knit your community is, the better off it will be during any kind of emergency. Start getting involved in community-building activities in your neighborhood. Get to know your neighbors, and become involved in your community as it works to prepare for an influenza pandemic. If there aren’t any groups creating a community plan, start one!

  2. Work: Plan to work from home as much as possible. Find out from your employer if you can create a telecommuting plan in the event of an emergency. If you work in an essential services field, make sure there is a plan to keep basic services operational, despite the possibility that many workers may not come into work. Help spread information to your co-workers about good hygiene and how to prepare for a pandemic at home.

  3. School: Find out what your school’s plans are for a pandemic event. If they don’t have a plan, help them create one. Encourage other parents to keep children at home if they are sick. Get together with other parents to find ways to continue children’s learning if schools are closed – can you create a Plan B Online learning system, for example, with a few teachers teaching online?

Above all else, STAY INFORMED. Knowing the facts – not the fears, not the indifference – is the key to preparation. Reliable, updated information can be found at the following websites:

Or you can call:

  • US: 1-800-CDC-INFO
  • Australia: 1802007
  • If you live in another country, please leave a comment telling us where you get your reliable information and I will add it here!

And if you cannot reach anyone via phone or online, you can listen to your portable radio for updated information.

Now, I’m sure I’ve missed something here, so please add what you know into the comments below. It could help us all in ways we cannot imagine!

Stay safe, happy, and prepared.

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11 comments to How To Prepare For Swine Flu

  • Good post. Being prepared for things is the one thing we can all do to prevent ourselves from feeling a complete loss of control when bad does happen.

  • I had a positive (though admittedly anecdotal) experience using elderberry and echinacea extracts the last time I had the flu. Shortened my lost days to two. A record for me. Disclaimer: I’m no doctor, take your doctor’s advice over mine, but using these things as complimentary treatments in addition to the regularly recommended medications (where your doctor does not advise otherwise) might shorten the course of infection for mild to moderate cases and make the more severe ones shall we say…livable.

    Just an idea, your mileage may vary.

  • I think the key is just being prepared, but not panicked. Being in healthcare, my husband and I had a very frank discussion on this. We opted to make sure we had a relatively full pantry, to start saving up water in our bottles once they were cleaned (we can always boil later) and make sure we’re stocked up on kid essentials like tylenol and likely gatorade. Chile Chews also has some good ideas and links to consider.

  • You’re right, Melinda, our posts are very complementary. Great information!

  • Wow. I must admit I suppose I have been on the indifferent side of things and feel like it’ll all sort itself out. But, as a pregnant woman and mama to a 17 month-old (two of the most susceptible demographics), I suppose I need to be a bit more aware. Thanks for the thoughtful post.

    Hadn’t been here in a while and need to come back more often! You do great work.


  • The media catches on to trends and exploits them for viewers. You have been exploited by this. Virtually nobody is going to die. This is media hype to gain viewers. Don’t buy into this. If you think locally, you will be safe, rather than what they are trying to sell you. The swine flu is garbage, just like the SARS hype.

  • ChristyACB, Very true.

    Kory, I’ve heard elderberry works for this as well, though have never tried it. Thanks for the info! There is a good book I have on my shelf: “Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine.” It has lots of such solutions. Haven’t tried most of them, but good to have around.

    Going Green Mama, Thanks for sending me to Chile’s post – great complement to this one!

    Chile, : ) Great minds, you know.

    Dig this Chick, Thank you so much! It’s been a while since I’ve visited you as well – love your writing, too. And yes, good idea to even just think through what you would do. Just in case.

    Red Icculus, Ah. I also used to think as you do. And ultimately, I do believe also that thinking and living locally is the most important thing we can do. But SARS was contained because people were aware of it, and public health officials did a good job of containing it. I am not particularly worried about swine flu because right now it doesn’t look much different than any other flu. But because it is made up of 3 different flu strains combined, it has a greater potential to mutate into something more severe.

    There is harm in creating and exploiting fear, I agree. But I don’t believe there is any harm in doing a few things to be prepared for this or any other disaster. And to be clear, these preparations are the same preparations every public health organization has recommended. They recommend them because history has shown that prepared people make their jobs easier, and they have the potential to save lives, livelihoods, and overall well-being.

    That said, we all have our own opinions and experiences, so you don’t have to believe in everything I write of course. I will ask you to make sure that you’re respectful, though.

  • Yes, I don’t understand the panic surrounding the swine flu, either. I heard on the radio early on that 30 people in California had had it. Really? 30 people? Out of 30 MILLION? And you’re talking about this on the radio? Come on now.

    However, I do agree that it’s probably best to stay aware and prepared for all types of emergencies, something I completely suck at (doesn’t help that I don’t live in one place long enough to create my own fort in it). So if you take this as a simple “emergency preparations list”, it’s got good info. But as a reaction to the swine flu – well, I just don’t buy the hype over that. Especially as I’m not in the U.S. at the moment. ;)

  • [...] One Green Generation:  “How To Prepare For Swine Flu”  [...]

  • Wonderful stuff.. really very informative. I’ll grab the RSS feed and will stay tuned for more. Oh, and I threw you a StumbleUpon vote ;)

  • Brooke Young

    Swine flu is not as dangerous as Dengue Fever but we should still take precautions to avoid spreading and contracting this disease.

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