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The Best Prep for Bird Flu

The idea of bird flu hitting U.S. shores can be scary. WebMD tells you how to do your part to prepare for the worst.

Facing a Pandemic continued...

The antiviral drugs, such as Tamiflu, may or may not work against bird flu, although the government is trying to assemble 20 million doses.

Skinner warns of social disruptions if the virus starts leaping from person to person.

On the CDC's web site:

  • The government urges you to plan for the overcrowding or closing of hospitals, banks, stores, restaurants, and post offices.
  • Schools may be closed for extended periods.
  • Parents need to think about their children's needs and possibly even childcare requirements if the parents are able to get to work.

Woodson doesn't want to be a Chicken Little, but he does foresee a scenario in which utility companies would run out of coal and hospital generators out of diesel oil -- just because there was no one healthy enough to deliver these items. "Most doctors would want to stay open," he says, "but in our office, without electricity, we would have to close the office."

Hospitals may cease to be a refuge. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Woodson says, there are 1 million hospital beds in this country, and 100,000 ventilators. Almost three-quarters of the beds are already full at any one time. "There is no possible way the hospital system could cope," he says.

Yet in many cities and municipalities, forward-thinking planners are trying to prepare the health care system for the coming of the virus. Jeff Kalina, MD, leads the Texas Medical Center's Pandemic Flu Task Force. He also spearheaded the center's hurricane efforts for Katrina and Rita.

"We mirror the Centers for Disease Control and FEMA guidelines," he says. "We are creating a plan and when we get it, we will drill it. If there is suddenly a ground zero and Person A gives it to Person B and Person C, we will spread the word about flu hygiene [hand washing and so on]. We also will be planning to create wards [of hospital beds]. We will turn the lights on; get triage going." Probably, says Kalina, people will be sent to places other than hospitals, where vulnerable people would be more susceptible to the bug.

Skinner adds that the CDC is developing software called FluSurge for hospitals to use in their planning and detection of viral spread.

Home Care May Be Crucial

Woodson advises his patients to prepare to stay home unless they are really severely ill. In other words, we are back to pioneer days.

Extrapolating from past viruses, Woodson says statistics suggest, although this is not a sure thing, that some people will not contract bird flu, should it go transmissible. No one knows exactly why, but they could be immune. According to these calculations, some will get it and will be very ill and contagious. Others may get a light case or no case, but will show antibodies, meaning it got into their system and they have formed antibodies against the virus.

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