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Friday, June 29, 2007


posted by on June 29 at 16:55 PM

Can I express my love for Erica’s feature this week on the avian influenza? You really should read it.

The current bird-to-human form of the virus kills an astonishing number of those it infects; according to the World Health Organization, more than half of those who have contracted the virus from birds have died. Its impact is greatest among the young; in a study of more than 200 confirmed human avian flu cases conducted in early 2006, WHO found that just over half of all cases were in people under 20, and that the median age of those who caught the flu was 18. Of the youngest victims, the majority died; the majority of those older than 50 survived.

Unlike the typical annual influenza outbreak, deadly mostly for those very young or old, H5N1 kills people with the healthiest immune systems—people in their twenties. This virus, like the 1918 influenza, induces a panic response from our immune systems; for people in their twenties, it is your own immune system that does you in.

We have much better drugs to control the immune system, things like cortico-steroids. Still, you might find it difficult to get to a doctor when the pandemic comes:

King County, thanks in large part to the vigilant efforts of County Executive Sims, is perhaps the best-prepared county in the nation. Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean we’re actually prepared. If a severe pandemic hit tomorrow, King County would be in serious trouble. Hospitals, which have almost no excess capacity, would overflow immediately; the movement of goods through the port and freight rail systems would slow to a crawl; medicine supplies would run out; the mortuaries would fill up; and many basic functions of government would cease.

The best plan is not avoid getting infected. Here are some hints on how to that:

Avoid prolonged or close exposure to people who are infected.

Wash your hands. Start with the habit of washing every time you enter your home, and before every meal. For when soap and water isn’t available, carry some instant hand sanitizer—like Purell and with at least 60% alcohol—and use a dime-sized drop that will keep your hands wet for at least 10 seconds.

Use a surgical mask—available at drug or grocery stores—if you go out during the outbreak. It should be good enough to protect you from the virus-carrying droplets, provided you stay 3-6 feet away from someone coughing. And cover your own coughs.

Stock up on food and water.

Something like Erica’s plan

Here’s what’s in my personal stockpile: One 20-pound bag of rice; one gallon jar of pickles; four 40-ounce cans of Chef Boyardee ravioli (a childhood indulgence I would never allow myself to have in “real” life); two weeks’ worth of bottled water, allocating one gallon per person per day; several assorted cans of beans; several large cans of soup; a large box of crackers; a half-gallon jar of peanut butter; canned vegetables, including corn and green beans; several pounds of pasta and jars of pasta sauce; a half-dozen aseptically packaged boxes of broth and soup; cereal; vitamins; toilet paper; tea; and a bunch of other stuff I can’t remember.

is a pretty good place to start. Add in a whole bunch of batteries, a flashlight and a radio and you’re there.

Having a functional social network, simply knowing your neighbors, is also key. Go introduce yourself.

Finally, given we live under volcanos, and over three fault lines, it might be wise to take a Community First Aid and Safety class with the Red Cross. That way you’ll know how to help the people in your network. Knowing how to operate a bag-valve-mask, stop dense bleeding, splint a limb or treat shock might make a huge difference.

There is a whole bunch more information at or though King County Public Health.

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All you people rubbing Purell all over yourselves all the time: know what the dirtiest thing in your house is? Your kitchen sink. Maybe your bathroom sink, but the kitchen is usually worse. Your toilet is ten times cleaner. But those doorknobs and phone receivers and toilet seats you're so freaked out about? They're not wet enough to breed bacteria much. And the bacteria in an ordinary kitchen sink is more likely to make you sick than bird flu.

Posted by Fnarf | June 29, 2007 8:09 PM

Personally, if a major disaster strikes Seattle, I was planning on forming a gang and ransacking the homes of the people who'd stocked up on supplies. Barring that, I'll wait for Mormon missionaries to knock on my door and turn to cannibalism. I won't eat the brains though. I fear kuru.

Posted by Gitai | June 29, 2007 9:27 PM


Heh. I just cleaned my kitchen sink, the exciting Friday night of a graduate student, before reading your comment. It depends upon what you eat, right?

Besides, given my room-mates barfing cat, I'm pretty sure my carpeting is the most purulent thing in my household.


I've tried Mormon. Quite tough and dry.

Posted by Jonathan Golob | June 29, 2007 9:55 PM


And they look so succulent too.

Anyway, call me a little skeptical about the death rate of bird flu infections. First, if the flu turns into a pandemic, the virus will likely mutate into a less lethal form. Second, it's possible, or even likely, that many people who have already contracted bird flu didn't get a case serious enough to warrant medical attention. Even the plague is only 15 percent lethal.

Posted by keshmeshi | June 29, 2007 10:16 PM

If you fraternize with your neighbors, they'll find out about your stash. And if you actually like some of them, that makes it much harder to shoot them when they show up at your door demanding that you "share" your food.

Survivors don't network. Survivors walk a lonely bitter road. You know you're a real survivor when you haven't heard your own name spoken in so long you've forgotten what it sounds like. Some call us mad. Some say we've lost touch with what makes us human. But so what? We survive, and that's all that matters.

A survivor always has a really cool dog.

Posted by elenchos | June 29, 2007 10:18 PM


Baptists tend to be properly marbled.

In the 1918 flu, about the closest model we have to H5N1, the initial pandemic was indeed more mild. Then it mutated to become much more deadly.

Influenza has a funny relationship with our immune system, like Original antigenic sin. (Great name, huh?)

If you first get exposed to a close, but not exactly the same, version of the flu, your immune system gets trapped focusing on the patterns from the first infection rather than making a proper response to the second.

Still, I mostly agree with you. Most likely the most dire outcome will not happen. Still, FEMA is in charge of preparedness. With that thought, I might buy another flat of water this weekend.

Posted by Jonathan Golob | June 29, 2007 10:38 PM

@ 3:

It's all that bicycling; develops long, lean muscle tissue, which tends to be on the stringy side. Still, they do provide good sport in the chasing down.

And since I'm in my mid/late 40's, I think I'll just sit back, relax, and wait to see which of my neighbors I haven't seen come out of their houses for several days...

Posted by COMTE | June 29, 2007 11:50 PM

Oh, and be afraid. Always be afraid. THE END IS ALWAYS NEAR!

Thanks for perpetuating America's culture of fear, which BTW Michael Moore mentioned in Bowling for Columbine was the primary source of violent crime in America.

Posted by Gomez | June 30, 2007 12:55 AM

Costco sells this huge bucket of dehydrated food that contains something like 250 meals according to its labeling. Maybe that's what everyone should buy.

Posted by Matt from Denver | June 30, 2007 9:31 AM

Holy Christ, you've got to be freaking kidding me.

This was the snowjob of snowjobs, and you're still venting over it? Golob, you've got to get out of the house a little more.

Look, there was no avian influenza, there was just filthy, dirty, polluted South east asia, and we, the US/International/WHO 'health' authorities went on over and decided that it was a good time to get all their skinny little asses in line with how we do things - factory farming.

So we killed their flocks, and are welcoming them to the KFC fold.

Jesus Christ, you people just jump when they blow the whistle, don't you? I mean, my goodness, how mind-numbed to you have to be to think that you can Predict an epidemic?

SO, I guess you'll tell me that the reason we
didn't have 'avian flu' pandemics in, oh, any other year in history, is because the CDC was handing out Tammy-flew, you know, like in 1921, when the 'Spanish Flu' ended.

You know, it's funny, huh, the Spanish Flu coincided with the first largest use of chemical weapons over a continent during a prolonged period of hunger and starvation, sickness, death, piled bodies, brutal winters in rotten, stinking trenches -

And whoa! A lot of people got sick! Holy Shit! Wow!

And the medical authorities at the time 'treated' Spanish flu by --- do you know?

By taking puss and blood from Sick People and INJECTING it into HEALTHY People. They called this VACCINATION.

Gosh, and a lot more people got sick. Huh, go f-ing figure.

Then there were the treatments with injected Mercury - which we still do - and Arsenic, and every other bodily poison you can think of.

So, what does the one have to do with the other?

1997 - 2007 - some 100 people die, in filthy, polluted SE Asia, after being dosed with drugs in local hospitals, having come in with lung infections, or who knows what from whatever they're drinking, spraying or eating over there - HAVE SOME CHINESE DOG FOOD, Bird Flu Geniuses -

and a few to a few dozen factory farmed birds die - which they do all the freaking time everywhere that we pen them together -

And the little white, suburban American teenager suddenly becomes enthralled with PANDEMANIA! Whoo-Hoo! We MIGHT all DIE from Flying Birds!!!

Holy shit. If you can't figure any of this out, if all you can or want to do is parrot exactly what the health authorities tell you, could you please change your byline to:


thank you very much,

PS - I've got nothing against being prepared for an emergency, by the way. I wouldn't want to rely on the local govt authorities to do it either.

Posted by LS | June 30, 2007 9:45 AM

Will "bird flu" be the one that sticks?

West Nile hasn't really worked out...neither has SARS.

Not quite sure why "bird flu" has such marketability.

Nevertheless, just the fear of bird flu has been enough to create some cash for the pharmaceutical companies. Be's..the birds!

Posted by BD | June 30, 2007 11:19 AM

But wait! Iraq isn't in cahoots with al Qaeda, so why attack Iraq in the war on terrorism?

Because we're not just at war with al Qaeda, stupid. We're at war with a large and growing Islamo-fascist movement that draws its troops and funds from all over the Islamic world. Islamo-fascism is a regional problem, not just an al Qaeda problem or an Afghanistan problem. To stop Islamo-fascism, we're going to have to roll back all of the tyrannous and dictatorial regimes in the Middle East while simultaneously waging war against a militant, deadly religious ideology.

Dan Savage Oct. 2002

Posted by Jonah | June 30, 2007 4:55 PM

REALITY CHECK: the best thing to do is NOT to use anti-bacterial soap, especially if you have kids. It breeds super resistant strains, weakens your kids immunity systems, and is basically a WASTE of TIME.

Do what most medical researchers will tell you - if you listen - use CHEAP SOAP.

Seriously, just go buy a bar of Ivory Soap. It kills more germs, it floats, what more can you ask for.

Thanks. Now, just remember, if H5N1 mutates and infects North America, if you get flu symptoms - DO NOT GO IN TO WORK. Only place you should go is a hospital, if anywhere, but basically stay at HOME.

Posted by Will in Seattle | June 30, 2007 11:02 PM

oh, and @4 - for the virus to become pandemic it has to transmute into a weaker form, so that it can spread.

if it is too efficient, it kills too quickly, and won't spread much.

Posted by Will in Seattle | June 30, 2007 11:05 PM

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