What do New York City and Orange County, California have in common? Celebrity sightings. Overpriced real estate. And a recent measles outbreak that has made residents nervous. Experts are calling it the worst epidemic of this particular disease in decades. In early April, there were 25 confirmed cases in NYC and 21 cases in the OC (read the CBS news report here). As of May 15th, the measles outbreak has spread to Ohio where 68 cases have been reported in six counties. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has reported 187 cases of the measles outbreak nationwide this year. Measles can be fairly scary, with rare but very serious possible complications. Prevention, however, is fairly straightforward. The Mayo Clinic recommends isolation (measles is highly contagious through body fluids) and vaccines (which had nearly eradicated the disease in North America). If you live in areas where outbreaks are being reported, authorities are asking that you contact your doctor and give the office heads-up, so that containment protocols can be put in place—contaminated clinics being a possible culprit in the NYC measles cases. There is a larger issue at work, though, as measles is hardly the only infectious disease to spread quickly and threaten the population with an epidemic. Most of us remember the swine and bird flus, SARS, and West Nile virus. Some of us might even remember the Asian flu or Hong Kong flu. Pandemics like these can inspire spectacular, worst-case-scenario kinds of fears (remember Outbreak?). Or they can inspire proper preparation. So what can you do?
- First, educate yourself. Read up on pandemic protocols and prevention. ABC News has a helpful list of steps you can take now. I also like this WikiHow article on how to survive a pandemic, and this one from The Survivalist at Slate.com. Other good sources: the Centers for Disease Control, Flu.gov’s pandemic page, and WebMD.
- Second, stay healthy. Epidemics and pandemics most typically (though not exclusively!) affect the physically vulnerable: children, the elderly, and those with weakened immune systems. Need some motivation? Read our post on fitness for survival. Eating right and exercising regularly are only half the battle. Remember what your mom taught you: cover your mouth when you cough, wash hands frequently, and stay home if you’re sick to avoid infecting others.
- Third, make sure your food storage and other essentials are in good shape, in case of a hunker-down situation. The ABC News article mentioned above suggests storing food and supplies for at least 7 days (Ha! Amateurs…). And don’t forget to store things like respirator masks and vinyl gloves to minimize contact with infection.