HHS Advises Stocking Up On Supplies for Avian Flu

Saturday, January 7, 2006

There is no vaccine and drugs are in short supply, but Americans may be able to ride out any pandemic of bird flu if they stock up on supplies and keep their children clean, the government said yesterday.

The Department of Health and Human Services checklist illustrates how little can be done to prevent widespread illness and disruption if H5N1 avian influenza causes a pandemic -- a global epidemic -- this year.

The virus still mostly affects birds, but the deaths of three children in Turkey, if confirmed to have been caused by H5N1, means the virus has now infected people in six countries. The World Health Organization has confirmed 142 cases and 74 deaths from bird flu since 2003.

So far the virus cannot pass easily from person to person, but experts fear that genetic changes could give it that capacity and spark a pandemic that could kill millions. If that happens, HHS said, it could kill 2 million Americans, close schools for days or weeks, and disrupt industry and commerce.

Experts say the best way to wait out a pandemic, which could last months, is to stay away from other people and keep close to home.

"During a pandemic, if you cannot get to a store, or if stores are out of supplies, it will be important for you to have extra supplies on hand. This can be useful in other types of emergencies, such as power outages and disasters," the HHS guide says.

HHS's Pandemic Flu Planning Checklist for Individuals and Families, available on the agency's Web site, PandemicFlu.gov, advises:

Teaching children to wash hands frequently and appropriately, covering coughs and sneezes with tissues, and modeling the correct behavior.

Having ready-to-eat canned meats, fruits, vegetables, soups, bottled water and cleaning supplies on-hand for an extended stay at home.

Having any nonprescription drugs and other health supplies on hand, including pain relievers, stomach remedies, cough and cold medicines, fluids with electrolytes, and vitamins.

Talking with family members and loved ones about how they would be cared for if they got sick, or what will be needed to care for them in another home.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company