The New Scientist asked 60 experts whether they are taking personal precautions as the autumn flu season approaches.
Sometimes the best indicator that you should prepare for the worse, comes from an expert in the field. So when you see the meteorologist boarding up his house in preparation for a big storm, you should probably follow suit.
With that in mind, The New Scientist interviewed 60 public health officials, epidemiologists, and flu researchers worldwide about what, if any, personal precautions they have taken as the autumn flu season hits. The unscientific poll's results: a coin flip.
According to The New Scientist:
They are divided. Half say they have taken no measures. Reasons were mixed: some believe a serious flu outbreak unlikely, others don't feel they are at risk of serious disease, and many stated that they can easily access drugs via their local health infrastructure if necessary. Robert Dingwall , director of the Institute for Science and Society at the University of Nottingham, UK, says, "I am not planning to stockpile. I have every confidence in the availability of [UK] stocks of antivirals and in their continued availability."
The other half of those questioned are taking at least one precaution in anticipation of a severe swine flu outbreak. These include acquiring antivirals such as Tamiflu, or antibiotics for them and their families. Some have had the pneumococcal vaccine to protect against pneumonia, which can occur as a secondary infection. A few have even stockpiled food and water in their homes in case civic services, such as transport networks and food supplies, break down (see table).
Some of them seemed motivated by concern that stocks of antivirals or antibiotics were either absent or likely to run out. One health official in Africa said people in her country are "totally relying on the grace of God" to protect them from the pandemic. Although the respondents were evenly split between lower and high-income countries, around two-thirds of those who had taken special measures were from high-income countries, such as the US, western Europe, Japan and Australia, where government plans are relatively well formed and shortages of medicines are unlikely.
While Dingall told The New Scientist that he was surprised more experts in high-income countries didn't protect themselves, he said that's probably a good thing. If word got out that all experts in the field were stockpiling Tamiflu, there would probably be a run on the drug, creating the shortages public health officials fear.
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