Tuesday, October 26, 2010

You ready to spend six weeks cooped up at home by bird flu?

According to this article, which originally appeared in the World Policy Journal of the World Policy Institute, "In 2009 the world in effect took a test [re:  the H1N1 flu outbreak]. At the scientific and technocratic levels, it did reasonably well. But at the level where politicians operate, too many countries failed, and failed miserably. That does not portend well for the future.

The H5N1 virus continues to infect and kill. It's still a threat as a pandemic, while HIV and SARS demonstrate that new infectious diseases can emerge at any time. Meanwhile, a sense of complacency seems to be settling over the world. Because H5N1 has not become a pandemic and H1N1 turned out to be mild, the idea that influenza is no longer a threat has become pervasive. Everything that happened in 2009 suggests that, if a severe outbreak comes again, failure to improve on that response will threaten chaos and magnify the terror, the economic impact, and the death toll. And it will come again."

This wasn't written by some fear-mongering rabble-rouser, but rather by "John M. Barry, Distinguished Scholar at the Tulane/Xavier Center for Bioenvironmental Research ... the author of The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History (Viking, 2004), a study of the 1918 pandemic that was named by the National Academies of Science the year’s outstanding book. He has advised both the Bush and Obama administrations, as well as other federal, state and World Health Organization officials on influenza outbreaks. Barry serves on the advisory committees of Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School for Public Health and MIT’s Center for Engineering Systems Fundamentals."  Guy knows flu.

What if another flu outbreak caused the powers that be to institute a quarantine - everybody forced to stay home, indoors, for, say - six weeks, starting immediately.  Could you manage?

Have you got enough food?  How about water...?  Would you run out of toilet paper?  Would you have a way to heat your house or apartment?  How about lights so you can see at night, or a way to cook? Do you even know how much you consume on a regular basis?

You know, if there's a quarantine people that work in sewage treatment plants and water pumping plants and the like aren't necessarily going to be overjoyed to have to stay at work, and they will also be as vulnerable as you and me as far as catching the flu.  Same thing with truckers and shippers [and most of the food we eat is trucked in from a distance, if only from the local distributor]. With the potential for no one at work doing the things you and I take for granted - putting food on grocery store shelves, seeing that sewage gets treated, water gets pumped, power stations stay operational - you and I will have to make do with what's at hand.

Don't expect grocery stores to supply you with food if the warning/demand goes out to stay at home.  Your local grocery is likely to look like this:

Empty shelves before a snowstorm, February 2010
And don't expect that the switch on the wall is where electricity comes from or that the faucet is where water comes from.  Those are the ends of long chains of pipes and wiring, and rely on human intervention for maintenance and repair.  No humans equals no maintenance, and certainly no repair.  Power goes out, it might not come back on for a long time.  Same for water.  And those things might never come back on.

If you aren't prepared before an emergency hits, you will not be able to count on outside sources.  And don't be misled by the way things are; 'things' are fragile and subject to disruption.  Think the Kobe earthquake.  Think Katrina.  Think Haiti.