for National Geographic News
A bird flu pandemic preparation plan for the United States issued by the White House contains some sobering warnings.
The H5N1 strain of bird flu, which is not yet easily transmissible among humans, to date has killed 114 people worldwide.
But if the virus mutates and a pandemic occurs, one-third of the U.S. population could become infected and two million people may die, the plan estimates.
Workplaces could suffer up to 40 percent staff reductionswhich may cripple essential services like public transportation, hospitals, and grocery stores.
The plan also contains a strong message to the public: Individuals need to take action to protect themselves. (Related news: "Family Quarantine Is a Key to Fighting Bird Flu, Study Says.")
Fran Townsend is the U.S. president's Homeland Security Advisor and is responsible for coordinating the government's pandemic planning.
She wrote in an online forum that she hopes to change the mindset that the federal government will always be able to take care of people in the event of a pandemic or other disaster.
"Citizen and community preparedness is very important, perhaps most important, when it comes to pandemic planning," Townsend wrote.
"There are concrete steps that can be taken to protect you and your families during a pandemic, and to prepare you and your communities beforehand."
Here are some recommendations:
Take Your Shots
A generally healthy person may stand a better chance of survival during a pandemic. While a standard flu shot won't protect you from bird flu, it can keep you safe from seasonal flu.
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