Friday, October 3, 2014

Prepping for Ebola

Not actually Erin.
Picture by KJ Photography
& is used with permission.
It would appear that the specter of Ebola has finally arrived in the US. No doubt many of you are following the developments in Dallas -- I certainly am.

However, while everyone is right to be keeping tabs on things, I would caution against panicking. Ebola is this generation's AIDS -- it's a scary disease about which little is known, and its effects are gruesome. But let's all take a deep breath (some of us behind the safety of N95 respirators) and think about it for a moment, shall we?

There have been, as of this writing, 6,668 deaths from the Ebola virus.

However, 250,000 to 500,000 people die every year from simple influenza.

Statistically Speaking

Statistically, you're much more likely to die from the flu. There's a thing called the reproduction number, or R0, which is a mathematical value assigned to infectious diseases. It represents the average number of infections that a single sick person will cause in a population, so the higher the number, the more contagious is it. 

Measles, which is hellishly contagious, has an R0 value of 18. 
SARS and HIV/AIDS have values of 4.

Ebola has an R0 value of two.
So unless you're in Dallas, you can relax and take off the Hazmat gear. (Also, get a flu shot.)

Protecting Yourself

As I said, Ebola is this generation's AIDS, and the good news is that they are remarkably similar in transmission, which means that those of us who lived through the AIDS panic of the 80s (and the requisite health and safe-sex classes of the 90s) already know what to do:  don't come into contact with bodily fluids of anyone you don't know. 

The nice thing about Ebola -- and probably the ONLY nice thing about it -- is that it isn't contagious while it's dormant, so there's no need to worry about catching it from someone who isn't showing. They're only contagious when they're showing symptoms of illness, so staying away from sick people, washing your hands and sanitizing surfaces with alcohol or bleach will go a long way.

I go into this in more detail in my segment in Episode 7 of the Gun Blog Variety Cast, so if you'd like to learn morel I encourage you to go there and give it a listen.


It's normal in times of crisis for people to want to do something, anything, to protect themselves. This is a perfectly rational reaction to feelings to fear and helplessness, as the act of accomplishing something makes is feel like we are taking back control of our lives. However, there are lot of people and businesses out there who are going to try to take advantage of this fear and cheat people out of money. 

The biggest offenders are those folks who are trying to sell "pandemic kits" that feature tyvek suits, rubber gloves, booties, goggles and N95 masks. On the whole, you do not need these things.  Would you like to know why?

The honest (but difficult to hear) answer is that these items, with the exception of the goggles, are meant to be disposable. You put them on before you go outside, you do your outside thing or deal with contaminated people or whatever, and then before you come back inside you strip all of that off to be thrown away and you take a decontamination shower. 

Do you have a decontamination room? Do you have all the pieces necessary for you go out and come back for however long the problem lasts?  Probably not, because those items are expensive in bulk and take up valuable storage space. 

(Interesting side note:  there is a story of a 22-year-old woman in West Africa named Fatu Kekula who protected herself from infection while caring for sick relatives by wrapping herself in trash bags. You don't NEED these fancy panic kits, folks!) 

If you absolutely must buy something to feel in control, my recommendation is to buy something that will do you much more good in the long run:  Buy enough food, water, and supplies (like toilet paper) to last you at least 6 weeks -- 42 days, or just a bit longer than the typical 40-day quarantine

Why Self-Quarantine? How?

Your home is your most extensive prep. Inside it you have food, water, shelter, clothing, and comfort. Furthermore, you control who goes in and out of it. If you are truly worried about infection, why would you put on protective gear to go outside when it's far easier to protect your home and wait out the disease?

Here are my recommendations on what to buy to create a 6-week stockpile of goods. Not only will they serve you if you need to self-quarantine, but they will also come in handy if there's another kind of disaster that knocks out the food and water supply. 
  • Bulk packages of rice, beans, pasta and breakfast cereal from the supermarket. Seal them in 5-gallon food-grade buckets when possible. 
  • Large sacks of flour and sugar. 
  • Powdered milk. 
  • Spices, pasta sauce, and honey. 
  • Kitchen staples like yeast, baking soda, baking powder, cooking oil, and vinegar. 
  • Bullion cubes. 
  • Powdered dessert mixes (like pudding) for morale-boosters. 
  • Jars of peanut butter. 
  • Cans, cans, cans of food. Soup and vegetables, mainly. 
  • Preserved meats like vienna sausages, sardines, and beef jerky. 
  • Toilet paper and paper towels. 
  • Trash bags
  • Water -- and lots of it. This is probably going to be the hardest one to do, as the rule of thumb is one gallon per person per day. 

Here are some books on how to build a good Prepper Pantry on limited funds:

And finally, if you are truly worried about infection, here are instructions on how to create a safe room against a bio-terror event.

Stay safe, Dallas. 

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