The trick with prepping is that you never only prep for one thing. If you only prep for powercuts, what do you do when there’s a broken water mains and you lose your water supply? If you only prep for a water cut-off, what do you do when winter snow blocks the road?
So, given the ongoing and still-expanding Ebola outbreak in Africa, which I’ve been keeping half-an-eye on since March, I’ve spared a few thoughts this week for my pandemic/epidemic preps.
I’m not employed in health care so my first response to any major infectious disease is to consider how I can avoid contracting it, which basically means avoiding people. I’m self-employed and work from home, so I don’t have to go into an office and mix with people (big advantage!) and if I choose to work with a browser window open on news sources, nobody’s going to be complaining about me wasting my time. That means I can (a) track the incoming news, such as it is (there’s a certain degree of fog-of-battle confusion on the front lines of fighting disease outbreaks, not just battlefields!) and (b) avoid meeting people. The biggest danger in any pandemic is that you’ll catch it off someone you meet, so the first line of defence has to be, logically, to cut down on meeting people.
The interconnectedness of the world was brought home to me last summer, when I was smugly contragulating myself on not being exposed to SARS in any way. Lo and behold, I discovered that the husband of a woman I was helping out with horse-care was not, as I’d thought he was, safely in Azerbaijan (major disease risk: plague) but had been unexpectedly flown to Dubai for a week’s course and then had flown home and I was shaking hands with him that very morning. Grr. So much for feeling smug! Lesson learned: you’re never as safe as you think you are!
Anyway, the briefest scan over the Ebola headlines makes it clear that the affected countries are West African. West Africa is the home of many athletes now competing in the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow; it’s also the home for many university students in the UK. They come to Aberdeen, as I know from my time at Aberdeen University, to study petroleum geology and civil engineering, then go back to their own countries to try and earn money and improve their homelands. You can’t escape the fact that international travel links every part of the world closely with every other part, and therefore that disease can (not necessarily will, but can!) travel just as fast and far as the airline network will go.
So, Ebola. It’s contracted through exposure to the bodily fluids of the infected; I have no call to personally nurse sick people, not being trained in that field, and therefore I’m unlikely to have close contact with anyone in the later stages of the disease. I’m unlikely to have to deal with diarrhoea, vomit or urine. It’s possible, however, that I might shake hands with someone in the early stages of the disease, or they may sneeze or cough in a place where I am (or where I may be later) so after arranging to avoid crowds, my second line of defence is to consider how to protect my hands and face.
We always have nitrile gloves in the house – they come in useful for all sorts of dirty jobs – so we can easily cover our hands with a sterile barrier if needed. I’ve backed that up by buying some cans of spray-on anti-viral foam from Boots the Chemist this week; normally we have anti-bacterial hand-gel around, but anti-bacterial products are pointless in the face of a virus so spotting the anti-viral foam was great.
And finally, I’ve ordered some FFP3 face-masks from Amazon. FFP3 is the standard for clinical masks designed to prevent droplets in the air entering the nose and mouth, thus preventing the entry of virus particles that may be in those droplets as well. Every time we sneeze or cough, tiny droplets of fluid are expelled and hang in the air around us, so it’s good practice to not only wear a face-mask yourself to avoid inhaling such droplets, but also to put a mask on a patient who’s coughing or sneezing the virus into the air, for the sake of those around them.
To go with the face-masks, I’d also use eye-protection and we have various safety-goggles and safety-glasses at home already, for use in DIY, fireworks displays, shooting, etc.
We always have thin bleach in the house, as a disinfectant and a potential water-purifier, and a 10% solution of thin bleach could be used to do a disinfectant wash-down of outer clothing, footwear, even hands, if it was required.
At the moment, I’m not really all that concerned about Ebola in the UK. It’s not here at the moment and none of the family go around in crowds so we’re probably less likely to be exposed to anything anyway. On the other hand, if I start seeing reports of Ebola spreading in a community outside West Africa, I won’t have to panic-buy my defensive preps hurriedly. I have the situation covered. I won’t have to worry about finding the supplies we want have already been bought by someone else, leaving us exposed. What we have won’t go off, so it doesn’t matter if we don’t need it for the next 20 years, it’ll be fine if, as and when we do need it (Ebola probably won’t get here, but the winter ‘flu season certainly will, anyway!) A few moments reviewing what we already have, a few more picking up small things to help just in case we need them and we have peace of mind on this subject and can get on with life cheerfully.
In this instance, the price for that peace of mind was about £20.