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Protect Yourself Financially From Swine Flu

The swine flu could potentially damage your personal finances, so take these precautions.

While most people consider the swine-flu crisis primarily a health issue, it has the potential to be a serious personal-finance concern. Here are a few steps you can take to limit your economic exposure to the swine flu:

Take basic precautions:

A stay in a hospital could spell financial ruin. With many people out of a job and no longer covered by health insurance, the cost for treatment could be massive. Even a mild case of swine flu could end up costing hundreds of dollars in doctors' visits, treatments and tests, and lost work hours.

The best way to come out financially sound during a crisis like this is to make sure you and your family don't get the swine flu in the first place. There are a number of


to take to greatly reduce the risk of getting the swine flu (or any flu), such as washing hands often, keeping hands away from the eyes, nose and mouth, and avoiding crowded areas. It's also a good time to make sure your

financial emergency kit

is up to date and in order.

Prepare beyond the basics:

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While taking basic precautions is essential, being proactive makes sense. Doing so will cost money upfront but will save hundreds over the long run if it ends up helping you avoid getting the swine flu. While there's no recommendation in the U.S. to wear surgical-type masks as there is in Mexico, purchasing a good supply to have on hand before they run out is a good idea.

Take out some money:

Keep extra cash at home. If there is a pandemic, getting money from ATMs may become difficult. Banks ran scenarios of what could happen if there were a pandemic flu outbreak in response to the H5N1 bird flu virus a few years back. One of the findings was that ATMs could quickly run dry of cash as many workers who were supposed to replenish them called in sick or couldn't come to work to take care of family members who were sick. This could also easily extend to other necessities.

Prepare for your kids being stuck at home:

Much of Mexico City has shut down as a result of the current swine flu outbreak, and the city's mayor has indicated that public closures could last 10 days. Individual schools in a number of U.S. cities have already been closed while crews disinfect them. If the swine flu continues to spread, one of the first steps that many cities will take is to shut down school systems to limit the spread.

Kids not going to school can quickly become a huge financial burden. If a child isn't in school and there is nobody to take care of him or her, a babysitter needs to be hired or a parent must take time off work to care for the child. Since this situation could last weeks, coming up with a plan can greatly limit the damage to your finances. One possibility is setting up a group with friends where one parent will stay home one day with all the kids so you miss only a single day each week.

This is also a good time to talk with your boss about options if you must stay home. Telecommuting often works. Putting the scenario on the table will also help in the development of a viable plan.

The current economic crisis could be deepened and prolonged:

Economists predict a severe pandemic could cost the world economy trillions of dollars. It would put a lot of small businesses on even shakier ground. If a pandemic were to occur, people are likely to shut themselves in their homes for a few weeks doing nothing but the essentials. Restaurants and local retail shops would be hard hit as customers virtually disappear. For those looking for employment, it could become that much more difficult to find a new job.

Jeffrey Strain has been a freelance personal finance writer for the past 10 years helping people save money and get their finances in order. He currently owns and runs