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The news networks are over-flowing with stories about the recent Ebola outbreak these days, and lets face it, fear sells advertising space. So take what you watch on the nightly news with a massive boulder of salt. Don't let them scare you, more people are killed by the flu each year (50,000) in the US than the Ebola virus. Or H1N1, or SARS, or Avian Flu, or Enterovirus, etc etc.
But what that doesn't mean is that you ignore the possibility that one day we could be faced with a very real pandemic situation, be it man-made or natural. The 1918 flu pandemic infected 500 million people while the Black Death is estimated to have killed 30-60% of the population in Europe. And scientists have created super viruses that are down-right terrifying.
Lets lighten it up for a minute - things are MUCH better today then they were back then, at least in the modern world. But sadly, third-world countries are still greatly exposed, and it is in these places where the worst damage is usually done. It's also where viruses can infect greater numbers of people, mutate, and become truly dangerous.
Consider the implications of quarantine
Protection is available and we know how to prevent exposure with proper protective equipment (which we will get to soon.) but think for a minute about what happens to someone who is thought exposed to a disease like Ebola in the US. All their freedoms and those they were in contact with are immediately taken away from them as they are placed in quarantine. You cannot opt-out of this, you are trapped by law and not allowed to do as you will and for good reason if you actually are infected. But what's the difference between quarantine and imprisonment? What if you are lumped in with a greater group because of your geographic area, not because of your actual exposure? It recently happened in China where an entire city was quarantined when ONE man died from bubonic plague.
Let that settle in for a minute. Consider what situations you would face if your entire town, or city, was placed on lock-down - surrounded by the National Guard, no way to get in or out. Do you have food? Water? Can you keep you and your family from being exposed during that time?This is heavy stuff. It's also a real bummer to think about too much so try not to get carried away by it. We find the best way to put our worries to rest is to be prepared. So lets talk about what you can do today to get yourself ready.
Personal Protective Equipment
Personal Protective Equipment (otherwise known as PPE) is your first line of defence against microscopic baddies. There are certain criteria which must be met to make your PPE effective. You must have adequate protection from liquid exposure around your eyes, mouth, nose, ears, and skin. So you will have to be covered up from head-to-toe with material which will not absorb liquids. The areas around your head, wrists, and ankles should have elastic to keep a tight seal.
Before we get into the specific items which will meet these criteria, it's critical to understand that the proper putting-on (donning) and removal (doffing) of PPE is how you prevent exposure. If you don't do it right, you can contaminate and infect yourself and others.The CDC has a .PDF which explains the proper sequence here. Download it. Read it. Read it again.
Save it somewhere safe like an emergency iPad or Kindle. Print it out and keep a paper copy with the PPE.
Each one of these items is a requirement for proper protection against infectious disease exposure. Google "ebola doctor protective gear" to see for yourself what the doctors on the front lines are wearing. It's really heavy duty stuff - not the usual scrubs you see in the ER.
3M has a fantastic and much-greater list of items and explanations in their FAQ about Ebola here but you can start off easy with the affordable items listed below. You should be able to build each PPE kit for roughly $40 each. Keep in mind though, you may need more than one! If you get exposed while wearing your PPE it will need to be disinfected and some of it may not be able to be reused.
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Kimberly Clark Respirator Masks Filter
Price: $15 for 35
Learn about N95 Filters and how the CDC classifies them here (these are technically filters, not respirators.) These offer you good protection against virus and bacteria exposure. Having a full-blow respirator system would be the best protection but they are pricey. Can also be used as a pre-filter for cleaning sediment out of water.
Dupont Tychem QC Coveralls
Don't be mislead by the cheap Tyvek kits online. TYCHEM is liquid repellent and rated for protection against blood and other fluids. 3M's Technical paper on Protective Clothing for the Ebola Virus Disease here. You need to put them on and take them off properly: CDC guidelines for proper technique here.
Liberty Nitrile Gloves
Price: $16 for 12
It's pretty easy to think of all the reasons you might need these gloves, and none of them are really that pleasant. Best case scenario, you can inflate them and put it on your head. These longer gloves are preferred when planning for pandemic type situations or for funky chemical exposures.
To keep the heaviest contamination off of you in an exceptionally messy environment, it is proper to equip an apron in addition to the coveralls. This gives you extra protection by increasing your allowable exposure time as well as allowing you to see the contaminants more easily which have accumulated on you.
3M TEKK Professional Chemical Splash Goggle
Pretty great goggles for the price. You can fit a pair of glasses under them also. Good protection from debris along with liquids. Don't go cheap with the goggles, the strap is usually the first thing that goes on them, and these have a sturdy one. The eyes are a very vulnerable to contamination because they are moist and exposed.
Tyvek IsoClean hood
The Tychem coveralls have hoods on them, which is great, but you will need something a little more protective to keep liquids from entering around the facial area. A hood like this should do the trick by adding an important second layer of protection and reducing points of entry.
Tyvek Boot Covers
Gravity dictates that all liquids want to head to the floor. Ergo, that will likely be the messiest place around. The folks who work in pandemic areas have rubber boots to wear while treating patients but for our concerns we need to cover up the shoes we have on so we don't spread contamination all over the place.