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Preparing for the War at Home

Some tips in case the worst happens

FRIDAY, March 21, 2003 (HealthDayNews) -- No one knows if the United States will become the target of a new terrorist attack now that the nation is at war with Iraq, but many experts are urging common-sense measures "just in case."

The government has upgraded its security alert to high (or orange) and is making recommendations based on that level, says Debbie Wing, a spokeswoman for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). There have been no changes as a result of the war.

"People should stay informed. They should review preparedness materials, including evacuation and sheltering," Wing says. "Avoid high-profile or symbolic locations and exercise caution when traveling."

Those are the basics. Here are some additional precautions you can take for yourself and your family:

  • Educate yourself. The first step is to have as much relevant information as possible at your disposal, says Dr. Philip Tierno, author of Protect Yourself Against Bioterrorism, The Secret Life of Germs and Nuclear, Chemical and Biological Terrorism: Emergency Response and Public Protection. Download pages from a Web site or buy a book that deals with bioterrorism and terrorist attacks. "Knowledge is empowerment, and you must get a body of information," Tierno says.

    FEMA also says to contact local officials as well as fire and police departments to find out who has the most information.

  • Keep a battery-powered or Grund radio (it winds up) on hand as well as a flashlight. Make sure you have extra batteries for both.
  • Make sure you have two weeks' extra supply of any medications you are taking in case you can't leave your home. You may need to talk to your physician to get an extra prescription.
  • Prepare a first-aid kit with supplies to cope with everyday emergencies such as cuts and scrapes, as well as more extraordinary events.

    Your list, Tierno suggests, should include: gauze wraps and pads in various sizes, bandages, butterfly tape that can be used as a stitch, sanitizing wipes in protective packaging, scissors, ace bandages, a splint or board in case someone breaks a bone, a first-aid manual, eye wash and eye pad, instant ice packs, antibacterial ointment, latex gloves, tea tree oil (for minor infections, cuts and abrasions), aspirin, ibuprofen, vitamin supplements and potassium iodide tablets in case of radiation contamination. The potassium iodide tablets are available now in many pharmacies.

  • Don't stockpile antibiotics. "We in general discourage people from keeping supplies of antibiotics at home to be used when an illness occurs in an individual or family member," Dr. James Hughes, director of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention's National Center for Infectious Diseases, said at a news conference earlier this week. "[People should] take antibiotics when they're prescribed appropriately."
  • Have extra food and water in the house. Include canned food (soups, ravioli, fruit), a can opener, packaged foods that are easy to prepare, and lots of water. Cranberry juice will come in handy if anyone develops a bladder problem. Apple cider vinegar will help counter any intestinal problems or stomachaches that develop as a result of not eating right.

    "I don't recommend dry foods because you don't want to use water to reconstitute food," Tierno says.

  • An N95 dust mask, sold in surgical supply and hardware stores, keeps out 95 percent of particulates in the air and is good to have on hand, Tierno says. The mask also protects against radionucleotide particles, although not against gas.

    Mylar suits and respiratory masks for chemical attacks need not be on the top of your list; they squander precious time just putting them on. Your better bet is to run in the opposite direction of any attack, Tierno advises.

  • Carry a handkerchief whenever you go out and put it over your mouth and nose to shield your lungs if necessary. "Believe it or not, something as silly as a handkerchief is very useful as an emergency item," Tierno says.
  • Plastic and tape can be useful for closing off major drafts and to restrict the flow of air from air-conditioning units and vents in an apartment, Tierno says. But make sure you don't completely cut off your air supply.
  • Keep your immune system as healthy as possible, says Dr. Steven Bock, co-author of The Germ Survival Guide. "Most of the bioterrorism biologicals are pretty virulent, but our feeling with any germs is if you can go in with a strong constitution, your body can have a chance," he says. "Not everybody that gets exposed to the plague is going to get sick." Eliminate sugars, simple carbohydrates and unhealthy fats from your diet.
  • Certain herbal and homeopathic remedies can also boost your level of immune support, Bock says. Milk thistle, for instance, protects the liver. Vitamins A, C and E are also useful.

Above all, try not to stress out. "It's not as bad as you think, and you've got to know that. If you don't know that, you panic," Tierno says. "Knowledge is important. This is the best weapon against bioterrorism."

More information

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Agency have information on individual and home preparedness.

SOURCES: Debbie Wing, spokeswoman, Federal Emergency Management Agency, Washington, D.C.; Philip Tierno, M.D., Ph.D., director, clinical microbiology and immunology, New York University Medical Center, New York City, and author, Protect Yourself Against Bioterrorism, The Secret Life of Germs and Nuclear, Chemical and Biological Terrorism: Emergency Response and Public Protection; Steven Bock, M.D., co-author, The Germ Survival Guide and co-director, Rhinebeck Health Center, Rhinebeck, N.Y., and Center for Progressive Medicine, Albany, N.Y.; March 18, 2003. U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention news conference with James Hughes, M.D., director, National Center for Infectious Diseases
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