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How to protect yourself from the Coronavirus Outbreak (Update for 2020)
If you’ve been keeping up with the news, there is a brand new pandemic threat out in the loose to start off the new year. It’s referred to as Coronavirus and seems to have originated in China, in the city of Wuhan at a seafood wholesale market.
If you’re not familiar with the term Coronavirus, for context, both MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome) and SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) fall into the category of Coronavirus. If you’ll recall, there were serious potential-pandemic concerns about the spread of both MERS and SARS, and this current Coronavirus is no different.
As of right now, not much is known about this virus, and it also doesn’t yet have an easy-to-pronounce name, although in some instances it has been referred to as 2019-nCov (for novel Coronavirus). In short, this strain is new, and not much is known about it.
There is speculation that this nCov comes from bats and from there spread to humans. Experts say that human to human transmission is possible, but only when people are in close contact with each other (via respiratory fluids like saliva, snot, etc). At the moment it does not appear there is airborne transmission of 2019-nCov.
The latest figures (as of Feb 5th) show that there are 560+ reported dead from this nCov and more than 28000+ reported cases. In the US, there are (right now) 12 known cases of people infected by this particular strain of Coronavirus. In China, the city of Wuhan and about 15 other cities have been put under quarantine in attempt to stop the spread of the disease – in total, it’s estimated that about 60 million people are under quarantine right now.
Currently, the virus has spread to 27 other countries, and outside of China the number of infected is low for now but seems to be rising. There have been two reported deaths outside of China so far. Japan has seen the most confirmed cases outside of China with 45 infected.
Will this Virus Outbreak lead to a global pandemic?
To be frank, it seems unlikely at this point that this particular strain of nCov will lead to a global pandemic. We say this for two reasons. Firstly, in the grand scheme of things, this strain, while definitely dangerous, is not incredibly lethal – about 4% of people infected with it end up dying. This is significantly higher than the death rate for the flu, but in comparison with other Coronavirus pandemic threats, 2019-nCov is not as deadly. SARS had a death rate of 10%, and MERS has a death rate of about 35%. That being said, this could change if the virus mutates. The possibility of mutation increases as more people are infected.
The other reason why we here at SoS (keep in mind we are not doctors nor epidemiologists) don’t believe that this nCov will lead to a global pandemic is because it appears that governments around the world have taken swift measures to prevent its spread. While it will likely spread in China, and will probably affect the city of Wuhan quite severely, the travel restrictions both within China and internationally mean that it is unlikely that it will spread rapidly in other countries.
Still, it’s entirely possible that we’re completely wrong. There are a number of scientists and experts who appear to be very alarmed by the sheer number of people who have traveled internationally from the affected region in China. If we see a significant outbreak in any other country other than China – that’s when you should begin to worry about a genuine threat of a pandemic.
The other thing to worry about is if the disease starts to transmit more easily or becomes more deadly. If you hear about airborne transmission, then the threat of a true global pandemic increases massively, and the same applies if the death toll starts becoming much more severe.
How to Survive a Pandemic
If you are genuinely worried about the threat of a global pandemic, then the key thing is to be prepared. If you’re properly prepared, if and when it happens, you’ll be able to minimize the chances that you and your family are affected.
Ultimately, outbreaks of infectious diseases that lead to pandemics occur when disease is spread from one person (or animal) to another. If you can minimize your contact with the outside world for a prolonged period of time, you can pretty much guarantee that you won’t get sick (barring some very unfortunate circumstances).
There are some basic things that can help decrease your chances of getting sick in a pandemic situation. A lot of them are common sense, but we’ll list them here anyways.
- Wash your hands frequently, and whenever possible use alcohol based hand sanitizer, particularly after interacting with other people
- When washing your hands, wash for 20 seconds with soap.
- Wash your hands immediately after you sneeze or cough.
- Avoid crowded places when possible
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth with your hands. (Avoid touching your face in general).
- Avoid close contact with anybody who’s sick
- Clean and disinfect areas of your home/office that are touched frequently with disinfecting wipes or something similar
- If you do need to go into a crowded area (or if there is someone in your home or office who is sick), wear a surgical face mask, and in particular, encourage those who are sick to wear face masks (studies have shown that these are most effective when worn by those who are sick).
These are the recommendations given by government entities like the CDC.
How to really prepare to survive a deadly global pandemic
If you truly want to be ready for a genuine pandemic, then you need to go a step beyond the normal recommendations. If we’re imagining a pandemic akin to something like the Spanish flu, then things get much more serious. The Spanish flu killed 50 million people, or 3-5% of the world’s population at the time. If we took 4% of the current world population, that translates to more than three hundred million people dead – a catastrophic event that we’ve basically never seen before.
This number might even be optimistic. The world today is much more interconnected and far more crowded than it was in 1918 when the Spanish Flu pandemic occurred. A similarly dangerous pandemic could spread much faster and further.
If a pandemic is being spread person to person via airborne transmission, the best way to avoid being sick is to avoid interacting with the outside world. If you don’t come into contact with people (or places where there were people), then you won’t come into contact with sick people, which means you’re far less likely to get sick.
Unfortunately, most people are completely unprepared to hunker down for anything longer than a few days. If this describes you, then if and when a pandemic occurs, you will be forced to interact with the outside world because you won’t have the supplies or the equipment to survive.
That’s why you should start thinking seriously about prepping. Prepping is true disaster insurance – not the kind that an insurance company offers, but the kind that helps give you peace of mind that if anything truly catastrophic happens, you’re reasonably well prepared to deal with it (compared to the average person). The great thing about prepping is it’s insurance that covers almost any kind of disaster, natural or man made – hurricanes, earthquakes, war, and of course pandemics like the one that we could be facing right now.
Being properly prepared means covering your survival basic needs as governed by the survival rule of three. This includes ensuring that you have access to water and a stockpile of survival food. If you want to get a headstart on building up a stockpile of food, we recommend taking a look at our article on the best survival food kits.
It also wouldn’t hurt to be ready to bug out to somewhere with very low population density. If you want to plan to do this, then you’ll need to be ready with a bug out bag – in a true disaster, things move extremely quickly. Life could be normal one day and the situation could be catastrophic the next.
Survival Gear for Pandemics and Virus Outbreaks
In a true pandemic situation, you might also want to consider a hazmat suit – it may seem excessive right now, and you definitely wouldn’t wear one to work… But by having a hazmat suit in your basement or garage, you prepare for the worst. If we end up in a Spanish flu type situation and a hundred million people have died, nobody would judge you for wearing a hazmat suit if you were forced to go outside. While you could go with disposal hazmat suits that are single use, we recommend the Mira Safety hazmat suit – Mira are industry leaders in professional grade safety equipment, and these suits can be reused provided you follow the correct procedures in donning and doffing.
A less extreme precaution than a hazmat suit is to have a proper gas mask on hand. There are a number of standards laid out by various regulatory bodies for products like gas masks and respirators – for example, N95s filter out 95% of airborne particles, and P100s filter out 99.97% of airborn particles.
We recommend these Mira safety Gas Masks, which (along with their filters) can filter out 99.9999%+ of particulates. While wearing the lower standard N95s or P100s will decrease your chances of getting infected, if you are forced to go outside during a pandemic you’d rather not gamble, and the gas masks and filters from Mira Safety provide the most protection.
It may seem odd to wear a gas mask out into the world right now, but in the face of a genuine deadly pandemic, it could very well become the norm. It definitely wouldn’t hurt to have a few gas masks stored up as part of your survival preparations (whether you’re preparing for a pandemic or something else). These gas masks protect against a wide variety of harmful and toxic things that you might breathe in, including all known CBRN agents. CBRN stands for Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear. That means that these gas masks and filters aren’t just appropriate for pandemics, they’ll could be lifesavers in a variety of different catastrophic disaster scenarios.
So… Do you feel like you’re truly prepared for a global pandemic?
Now that we’ve covered the latest threats, we’ll move on to the big fear that most epidemiologists and scientists have – the fear of a deadly pandemic flu to match (or exceed) the Spanish flu of 1918.
This next portion of the article will help you understand the different flu types and how to protect yourself (when possible).
Influenza Term Definitions:
Seasonal (or Common) Flu – A respiratory illness which can be transmitted to other people. Most individuals have some immunity, and a vaccine is available.
Avian (or Bird) Flu – Influenza virus which occurs naturally among wild birds. Low pathogenic AI is commonly found in birds, and causes few problems.
H5N1 – Highly pathogenic flu which is deadly to domestic fowl, and can be transmitted from birds to humans. Currently, there is no human immunity and no vaccine is available.
Pandemic Flu – Virulent human flu which causes a global outbreak, or pandemic, of serious illness. Because there is little natural immunity, the disease can easily spread from person to person. Currently, there is no pandemic flu.
A fine government Web site on this subject is: pandemicflu.gov. Especially good is the Individuals & family planning page. Most of the information from this article can be found at this site.
Best Strategies For Protecting Against A Pandemic Flu
The best forms of protection against a pandemic are community strategies which delay or reduce its impact. Often called non-pharmaceutical interventions, such strategies may help reduce the pandemic until a vaccine is available.
As you plan, it is important to think about the challenges which you may face, particularly if a pandemic is severe. Below we cover some situations which may be caused by a severe pandemic, and ways to address them.
Possible Social Disruption
— Plan for the possibility that regular services–such as those provided by hospitals and other health care facilities, banks, stores, restaurants, government offices, and post offices–may be disrupted.
— Prepare backup plans in case regular public gatherings are canceled.
— Consider how to care for people with special needs, in case the services they require are no longer available.
Disruption of Work Routine
— Ask your employer if you may work from home.
— Ask your employer how business may continue during a pandemic. (See Business Pandemic Influenza Planning Checklist.)
— Plan for a possible reduction–or temporary loss–of income if you are unable to work, or the business you work for is closed.
— Ask your employer or union about leave policies during a pandemic.
Another matter which may seem a bit of “common sense”, but deserves mention: Take steps to limit the spread of germs by making good hygiene a habit.
— Wash hands frequently with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand cleaner.
— Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Clean your hands after coughing or sneezing.
— Put used tissues in a waste basket.
— Cough or sneeze into your upper sleeve if you don’t have a tissue.
— Don’t be a hero; stay at home if you are sick.
Stock supplies of water, as well as food that doesn’t easily spoil; during a pandemic you may not be able to find an open store with supplies. Also, remember that public waterworks services may be interrupted.
Make sure to store foods that:
— are non-perishable (will keep for a long time) and don’t require refrigeration
— do not require cooking, in case you are unable to cook
— require little or no water, so you can conserve water for drinking
Stocking supplies can also be useful in other types of emergencies, such as power outages and disasters. Make a checklist of items to have on hand for a long forced stay at home.
Knowing the facts is the best preparation for any pandemic. Identify trustworthy sources for reliable information.
— Reliable, accurate, and up-to-date information is available at www.pandemicflu.gov.
— Another source for information on pandemics is the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Hotline at: 1-800-CDC-INFO (1-800-232-4636). This line is available in English and Spanish, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. TTY: 1-888-232-6348. Questions can be e-mailed to email@example.com.
— Also look for information on your local and state government Web sites. Find available links to each state’s public health department at www.cdc.gov/other.htm.states
— Listen to local and national radio, watch news reports on television, and check your newspaper and other reliable sources of printed and Web-based information.
Examples of Potential Pandemic: Avian Flu
Avian Influenza is commonly referred to as the Bird Flu. However, that tells you very little. In fact, the name Bird Flu by itself is somewhat misleading. After all, the term could actually be referring to several different strains of virus carried by birds.
Along with this, Avian Influenza really refers to flu from viruses adapted to birds. Symptoms from such viruses can range anywhere from those of typical flu, to conjuntivitis, respiratory failure, pneumonia, and several other death- wielding ailments.
How’s that for not knowing what to expect?
In the past, there have likely been innumerable instances where flu from viruses adapted to birds have been, in some form, caught by humans. However, these have only reached pandemic proportions in three known instances.
In 1957, a strain of flu virus that emerged as the result of a recombination of human and avian viruses ( H2N2 ) wrought havoc on the world. Further, another ( H3N2 ) did the same in 1968.
Perhaps the most famous and deadly of pandemic avian flu situations occurred in 1918. In this instance, the ‘Spanish Flu‘ killed 500,000 people in the United States and over 50 million worldwide.
That’s right: 50 million dead.
Still, all of that is ancient history, right? After all, there’s nothing like that out there right now, so this article is merely blowing smoke.
Not quite true.
A strain of Avian Flu called H5N1 has caused the largest number of cases of severe disease and death in humans in recent years. This first became a supposed problem in 1997 in Hong Kong when- for the first time ever- an influenza A virus was transmitted directly from birds to people. During this episode, 18 people were hospitalized and six died. In order to control the outbreak, 1.5 million chickens were killed.
In addition – and perhaps most frightening – is the fact that there were rare situations where this virus spread from person to person in 1997.
You see, unlike the garden variety seasonal flu that sprouts only mild respiratory symptoms in most people, the disease caused by H5N1 was shown to follow an unusually aggressive course. In fact, in many situations H5N1 seems to cause an overwhelming immune response in people to, the point that their own immune systems in essence attack them.
Much like the Spanish Flu of 1918.
Still, despite outbreaks in parts of Europe, Asia, the Pacific, Africa, and the near East- particularly in regard to their animal populations- this virus has only left 167 people dead in 10 countries since 2003. That’s especially strange considering about half the people who have come down with it have died.
So why the low numbers? Simply because at present the virus rarely transmits from human to human. It seems that in order for a flu strain to truly become a pandemic threat to humanity, a protein that coats the virus’ surface called hemagglutinin must prefer to attach to cells in the human nose and windpipe.
Hence, why a sneeze in the earlier fictional situation would send a chill down Bill Angler’s spine.
The good news is that right now H5N1 still prefers to attach itself to the gastrointestinal tract of birds. Thus, the majority of exchanges with humans are due to direct contact with the animal, including its feces or secretions.
Unfortunately, viruses change all the time. Thus, the virus could mutate to a form that prefers to attach itself to the sinus passages at any time. In fact, the likelihood of a pandemic outbreak from a mutation of H5N1 in the future, according to some scientists, is as high 43%.
Further, if there was an outbreak, humans hardly possess any natural immunity to H5N1 viruses at all. Along with this, there is evidence that two of the more utilized antiviral medications ( amantadine and rimantadine ) were shown in Vietnam and Thailand to be relatively powerless against H5N1, which leaves us very little to fight with.
Even worse, it appears that the virus is becoming more capable of reaching animals than earlier strains. There have been reports of its spread to ducks (an animal that could very easily pass the virus to humans via contact), cats (only thing worse would be dogs), and even the stone marten.
Thus, the best answer to combat this problem is a vaccine. But, as is the case often in this world, that answer isn’t as easy as it sounds.
How To Survive An H5N1 Outbreak
In short, a vaccine would have to be developed.
The CDC and World Health Organization ( WHO ) have been hard at work planning for just such an outbreak. At a recent two day WHO meeting, chairman Ian Gust indicated that the first doses of such a vaccine, once a mutation was discovered in H5N1 that could pass from human to human more easily, could be available within three months. Though this is promising, it is not without problem.
Simply put, a lot of people would be dead by the time that the vaccine did reach the masses. This is the case because the vaccine really can’t be made in advance, particularly because the mutation has not occurred yet.
Thus, we don’t know completely what we’re targeting.
On an interesting note, in an effort to gain better understanding of what the world might be up against in the event of a pandemic outbreak, a professor of virology at Queen Mary’s College in Britain named John Oxford has asked to exhume the body of Sir Mark Sykes, a diplomat that died of the Spanish Flu in 1919. The hope is that they can learn something about whether or not he experienced an overly aggressive immune response where his immune system actually ended up attacking his own body.
If so, then the parallels to H5N1 might serve to help scientists figure out ways to combat the problem of outbreak before the problem occurs.
Preventative Measures for The Avian Flu
Unfortunately, these won’t help the area in question much in the case of a pandemic outbreak; but they might serve to stop the spread of a mutated virus to other areas of the world either before or after outbreak.
Bird Import Ban – At present, there is a ban on bringing birds and/ or bird products from H5N1 – affected countries. This would of course will be continued for the foreseeable future ( it also pertains to the importation of dead birds as well ).
Termination of infected poultry – Sounds terrible, but what Hong Kong did years ago in destroying 1.5 million chickens under the threat of outbreak was a valid preventative measure.
Cessation of international travel – No one has really discussed this. However, if and only if there was a pandemic outbreak, certain international flights from infected countries would likely cease immediately.
In sum, the first way to survive a Bird Flu outbreak is to hope and pray while continuing preventative practices noted above. However, if the virus does eventually mutate to a form that more easily transfers from human to human, the only answer would be a vaccine.
Would it be fast enough?
For some, definitely; but for you?
Ultimately, the only way to protect yourself in a genuine pandemic is to avoid contact with those who’re sick. That means hunkering down in a place and minimizing contact with the outside world. To be able to do that, you need supplies, equipment, food and water and so forth – in short, you need to be prepared. Learn more about prepping so that you’re ready if and when a global pandemic happens.