A severe pandemic could affect a third or more of the world's population over the span of just a few months. As we saw in the pandemic of 1918 -many patients that survived often required a long convalescence.
Weeks, sometimes months.
And to survive the flu, you needed someone to nurse you along. Someone to keep you hydrated, clean, and fed, and to help you with your meds.
Often simple, but life saving, interventions.
Things were different ninety years ago. Most people lived their entire lives very close to where they were born. We were not yet a mobile society. It was common for several generations of a family to all live under the same roof. People knew their neighbors, because often they'd been neighbors all their lives.
The result was that most people had a much stronger social safety net, made up of friends and relatives, than they do today. It was a different world. A different dynamic.
And it likely helped to save lives during the Spanish Flu.
Often neighbors and family members nursed the sick, even at the risk of personal exposure. They brought food and water to affected households. They even took in the children from homes being visited by `the Spanish Lady'.
No, it wasn't universal.
There are stories of people starving in their homes because people were afraid to approach a `sick house'. Undoubtedly there were many who did not receive help from friends or relatives.
But many people did. And that had to have contributed to their survival.
Today, with millions of people either living alone, or as the sole competent caregiver in a household (single parent, guardian, etc.), a large segment of our society is at a significantly heightened risk during a pandemic.
The US Census bureau tells us that 27 Million Americans live alone.
But that is only part of the story. Millions more are single parents with small children, or are elderly couples who would have difficulty caring for one another in a crisis, or are caring for an aging or disabled relative.
As we've seen with H5N1, and the Spanish Flu of 1918, a novel influenza virus has the potential - in a matter of hours - to completely disable a healthy adult.
Without competent and diligent care their odds of survival go way down.
Hospitals won't be able to take them all in. Not even close. The most optimistic figures I've seen have 10% of those infected being treated in a hospital.
Most pandemic plans figure on only 5%.
We are told repeatedly by the Federal government that each community must prepare for a pandemic, and that individuals bear a good deal of the responsibility to prepare as well.
It is unlikely, in a severe pandemic, that the Federal, State, or local government is going to be able to come to your rescue.
The term YOYO (You're On Your Own) is often used on the flu forums to describe how things will be during a pandemic. A slightly cynical, albeit reasonably accurate, appraisal of how many people expect to have to deal with a pandemic.
Michael Leavitt, Secretary of HHS, put it another way:
"Any community that fails to prepare with the expectation that the federal or state government will rescue them will be tragically mistaken." - Michael Leavitt June 08, 2006
Unfortunately, many communities are slow to prepare. Money is scarce, and a consensus that this needs to be done now, is lacking.
To get through a severe pandemic we need to change from this concept of YOYO to that of WOOO :
We're On Our Own.
That's right, we need to be thinking in terms of `WE' ; families, friends, and neighbors banding together to survive a pandemic.
Not just individuals or single families.
I know it goes against the grain, at least here in America.
We are a mobile society. We rarely know our neighbors like our parents did 40 years ago. We seldom live in the same town where we grew up and where our family is. We tend to go through life with blinders on, at least as far as our neighbors are concerned, simply because it is easier not to get involved.
We've become a nation of isolationists. And I'm as guilty as the next guy.
But during a pandemic, we either reject this modus operandi, or we accept tremendous avoidable losses.
Perhaps, even our own.
Each of us need, in advance, to make `Flu Buddies'. And not just people who live alone, although they are at the greatest risk.
An arrangement with one or more people (or families) that you will come to their aid during a crisis, and that they will come to your's if needed. For most, these `buddies' will probably be family members, good friends, or neighbors.
People we care about.
Although presumably some may be included in your `flu circle' simply because of their proximity to you.
If someone on your `buddy list' gets sick, they will have buddies to help them through it. Someone to fetch medicine, bring food and water, and make sure they take their meds. It could literally save someone's life
And that `someone' could be you. Or maybe your family, if you are incapacitated or dead.
The way I figure it, really good friends and neighbors are exceedingly hard to find. That makes them worth protecting and preserving during a pandemic (or any other crisis), even at some personal risk to yourself.
Now - before a pandemic erupts - you can be `prepping buddies'. Families or friends can sometimes get better deals pooling their resources and buying in bulk. And while you are at it, you can share knowledge as well.
By banding together now, you can help encourage your `flu buddy' to prepare before a crisis arrives. And a `flu buddy' isn't just handy for a pandemic.
We live on a violent planet, with earthquakes, floods, hurricanes, and tornados. Bad things happen, often without warning. Having a trusted `buddy' you can call on in an emergency is the world's best insurance.
There can be great community strength and resilience if we work together. Cooperation can be a powerful, lifesaving force if we will just unleash it.
Of course, there is a certain amount of personal risk involved in helping a friend or neighbor during a pandemic. You may be exposed to the virus, you may even contract it. If you share food, or water, or medicine . . . you will have less for yourself.
And it can be a hard sell convincing someone who is healthy to tend to someone with an infectious disease. But there is truly no safe place you can run, no safe place you can hide in a pandemic.
There is risk even if you do nothing to help others.
Using PPE's (masks, gloves), being diligent about handwashing, and limiting direct exposure to the absolute minimum can greatly reduce the chance of infection. The risk is not zero. But it can be mitigated.
The bottom line is - We either put aside these fears, and work together in a crisis, or we accept whatever losses a pandemic brings.
No, as an individual, it's true you can't save the world.
But if you are willing to try, you can sometimes save a small piece of it.