Operation USA, a Los Angeles-based disaster relief agency, announced that it was sending tens of thousands of N-95 biohazard protective masks to a network of community clinics in San Diego County along with latex gloves and other protective gear in the event that the airborne version of the H1N1 virus, or Swine Flu, crosses the US-Mexico border. This is in response to an urgent appeal from the Washington, D.C.-based National Association of Community Health Centers.
The relief group is withholding in its Los Angeles warehouses tens of thousands more masks and other paraphernalia in case they are needed in the Los Angeles area.
This may sound highly dramatic but in reality this type of preparedness activity is beginning to unfold across the USA and in many other countries.
We do not yet know the lethality of this particular strain or mix of animal and human viruses, but it appears at first glance less deadly than the "bird flu" virus which caused over 250 deaths in Asia over the past 5 years and decimated tens of millions of chickens and ducks in Asian countries where they are an important part of the food supply. That virus rarely "jumped species" from animal to man and it was never airborne.
The Swine Flu variant we are facing appears to be far more easily transmissible from animal and human to other humans. The early evidence shows it was able to travel to the U.S. and Europe inside the lungs of passengers returning home from Mexico.
We need to follow a series of simple steps regarding hygiene, avoiding crowds and reporting the onset of any flu-like illnesses early-on. For California's 8+ million medically uninsured, local clinics and public health authorities will be available to screen new cases of flu at little or no cost. Should anti-virals be needed, they are being provided from federal and state stockpiles if pharmacies run out.
Self medication with other medication in lieu of a medical exam is not advised as you may lose the 72 hour window where Tamiflu and Relenza are effective against this type of Swine Flu.
Above all, follow the news closely -- especially messages from the US Centers For Disease Control.