Most dictionaries define pandemic as "an epidemic that is geographically widespread; occurring throughout a region or even throughout the world."
Recently, Klaus Stohr, the coordinator of the global infuenza program at the World Health Organization predicted a bird flu pandemic that would take more lives than the Spanish Flu of 1918 wherein 20-to-40 million perished.
He wasn't the only expert who pressed the panic button.
United States Health and Human Secretary, Tommy Thompson, said "This is a bomb that could impact the world."
Dr. Julie Gerberding, Director of the Centers for Disease Control, Atlanta, Georgia, issued a warning to physicians to be on the lookout for symptoms of the avian influenza virus known as H5N1.
Even CIDRAP, the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota is alarmed. They have this statement posted on their webiste: "If the next pandemic strain is highly virulent (such as the 1918 strain) the global death toll could be dramatic."
The current fatality rate in Southeast Asia is 73%.
Now for the really bad news.
There is no vaccine available. And there won't be for months. Probably six-to-twelve months. Maybe longer. Clinical trials take time. Usually a year. Then once it's available, the vaccine must be distributed worldwide. A logistical nightmare.
So what can you do to protect yourself and your family?
Three steps. And they should be done now, while the winds of pandemic are blowing in Southeast Asia.
1. Buy a supply of oseltamivir, the only antiviral available that seems to reduce the impact of the virus. It doesn't kill it, but it does give your body time to build immunity.
2. Buy the only filter mask that will block H5N1 and kill it dead -- no that mask is not the N95 series. You'd be wasting your money on a N95. Nanomask is the one I strongly recommend.
3. Buy a supply of immunolin, the only blood protein on the market that will strengthen your immune system against horrific challenges like H5N1.
You can wait for your government to come up with a solution to protect you, or you can become proactive. My family has already taken the three steps outlined above, I hope you will too.
Mr. Hart is the author of "H5N1 VIRUS: It's Coming, Are You Ready?" and is a member of the National Association of Science Writers (NASW). He hosts a blog titled "Pathogen Alert" that monitors H5N1 developments worldwide.