Emergency preparedness makes good sense in light of flu outbreak

I admit that I spent some time on the weekend preparing an emergency kit in the event disaster strikes — perhaps in the form of a full-fledged pandemic.

I admit that I spent some time on the weekend preparing an emergency kit in the event disaster strikes — perhaps in the form of a full-fledged pandemic.

But don’t anyone panic — only a handful of cases of swine flu in Canada have shown up so far, none fatal, all described as relatively mild. And there have been no cases reported in Alberta yet.

There should be plenty of time to take action in the event things do start to happen here.

As I watched the swine flu story change by the hour on Sunday, it reminded me of last fall’s signs that our economy was headed for trouble. No one really seemed to grasp it, or admit to it.

And then bang, the economy went south. People were left with a sense of helplessness. Many are still reeling over how quickly things changed.

But that was the economy. This is different. This is your health. As individuals, we very much can do something.

Local health and school board authorities have been preparing for a pandemic for some years. Health experts have said it’s not a question of if, it’s a question of when.

Is this the when? This particular flu strain has never been seen before. It’s a combination of two strains of swine flu, one of bird flu and one of human flu.

A pandemic has not been declared, but the U.S. government said Monday it was preparing as though this outbreak were a full pandemic, even though only about 40 cases in the U.S. had surfaced.

In Mexico, the apparent epicentre of the outbreak, 150 deaths are suspected to be related to swine flu. Another 2,000 people are believed to have become ill in Mexico. Schools across the entire country are closed, as are other public venues.

On Monday the World Health Organization moved the six-level pandemic alert scale from Phase 3 to Phase 4. Phase 6 is a full pandemic. Phase 4 doesn’t mean a pandemic is inevitable. But the concern is that over time a mild virus can mutate and mutate into something much more serious.

You can take individual action to help stop the spread of swine flu.

At the top of the list — wash your hands.

If you are sick with flu-like symptoms, stay home. Health Link Alberta, which offers free health advice information 24-7, is 1-866-408-5465.

Wherever you are, and especially when around a group of people, cover your coughs and sneezes. If things got worse, and schools were closed, do you have a backup child-care plan?

And, maybe it’s time for people to put together their 72-hour emergency kits. This is not panic — this is good sense. Local authorities having been urging us for awhile to be prepared in the event of a disaster — flood, ice storm, tornado or pandemic. Coincidentally, next week is Emergency Preparedness Week.

The simplest way to prepare for an emergency is to go to Public Safety Canada’s website where information to create a personal emergency plan is available, as well as a list of items people should have ready, such as extra water, flashlights, canned food, a manual can opener and blankets.

Go to Public Safety Canada’s www.getprepared.ca for more information. If you’re not internet savvy, you can call 1-800-622-6232.

Finally, don’t succumb to the ridiculous notion that eating pork or pork products will give you swine flu. It won’t.

Mary-Ann Barr is Advocate assistant city editor. She can be reached by email at barr@bprda.wpengine.com or by phone at 403-314-4332.

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