Who uses it: Epidemiologists
What it means: A worldwide or nationwide outbreak of an infectious disease.
How you can use it: Wash your hands.
My friend Dan lives on a small farm in the west of England, and lost his chickens to a marauding fox last year. ("Losing one's chickens" sounds like a euphemism for something much worse, doesn't it?) The other day I asked whether he'd be getting more, now that spring is here.
He said he was going to wait until the outbreak of avian flu had passed -- which startled me, because I hadn't given any thought to avian flu since shrugging off the press hysteria last fall.
But yesterday, the federal banking agencies sent out their own Interagency Advisory on Influenza Pandemic Preparedness, part of a nationwide federal initiative to make people aware of the possibility of a flu outbreak, and take appropriate steps.
Curious, I clicked through a few links, and managed to scare myself silly. The federal government's set up an elaborate website at www.pandemicflu.gov, with checklists to tell people what to do to prevent infection and keep from spreading the flu if they get sick.
It all boils down to three things: 1) Wash your hands a lot. 2) Cover your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze. 3) Stay home if you're sick, and stay away from sick people if you're not. The website also provides a list of things people should have on hand for an extended stay at home, but they're things we should all have on hand anyway: canned goods, extra pet food, batteries, etc.
I've been interested in the history of the Spanish flu outbreak in Maine, because the second wave of the pandemic in the United States started in Boston. It's been hard to find contemporary local accounts, because everything simply shut down during the epidemic, and government officials didn't want to panic people by releasing too much information.
Looking at Pandemicflu.gov yesterday, I wondered whether we have the opposite problem now: with so much information available, it's hard to know what really needs our attention.