Now that I’ve frightened you with all those real-life creepy diseases, and the made-up one in The Way We Fall as well, how about some tips on what to do if you find yourself faced with a potential outbreak?
(Disclaimer: I am not a doctor, nor do I play one on TV. These suggestions are just to the best of my knowledge, based on my book research.)
Keeping yourself safe during an epidemic
A new bird or swine flu (or some other illness) is spreading. Dozens of people in your city or town are sick, a few have died. How can you avoid catching it yourself?
-Stay informed. Get news from multiple sources, to make sure you’re getting the full picture. Find out how the illness spreads, what groups are at the highest risk, and symptoms to be aware of in yourself and others.
-Avoid public places, like mass transit, malls, parks, movie theaters, museums, etc. Obviously this isn’t completely possible for most of us, but as much as possible, simply don’t be around other people if you don’t have to be. The fewer people you’re in close contact with, the fewer chances you have of running into someone who’s infected.
-When you do have to be around other people, wash your hands frequently. It’s easy to pick up microbes on our hands because we’re constantly touching things other people have come into contact with (and potentially coughed or sneezed on), but thankfully it’s also easy to wash them off before they get a chance to get inside you.
-Avoid touching your eyes unless you’ve just washed your hands. This was the question most frequently answered wrong in my survival quiz — many people assume the most vulnerable spots on your body are your mouth and nose. But your stomach acid dissolves most germs that might make their way down your throat, and the mucus system in your nose helps expel unwanted invaders. Your eyes, however, have almost no barrier to keep bacteria and viruses from creeping farther into your body. If you really have to rub one, wash those hands first!
-If you have to be around someone who’s showing symptoms (e.g., at work), take as many precautions as possible. Wash your hands after interacting with them. Avoid shaking hands or other forms of physical contact. If you can, wear a surgical mask for extra protection.
-Keep your immune system healthy. Take vitamin C regularly. There are also herbal supplements that are supposed to boost immune functioning that may be worth looking into. Try to stay in shape with moderate regular exercise. But also take it easy now and then and give yourself time to relax and have fun — stress can interfere with your ability to fight off disease.
So far we haven’t faced an outbreak anywhere near as severe as what sweeps through Kaelyn’s island. Here’s hoping we never do! But in the meantime, it never hurts to be prepared.