Calgary, Canada, September 20, 2009 --(PR.com
)-- We have heard a lot about the H1N1 flu virus (originally referred to as “swine flu”) since it first appeared in North America this past spring. After causing several deaths in Mexico, it showed up in the US in April, then in Canada about a month later. On June 11, 2009 the World Health Organization signaled that a pandemic of novel H1N1 flu was underway, and we were warned that a mutation could produce an outbreak to rival global influenzas of the past. While severe illness and death has been reported with this virus, most people who have contracted H1N1 have recovered without requiring medical treatment. But no one really knows how severe the approaching pandemic will be, so it makes sense to have all the facts about this illness to lessen our personal risk of infection or transmission as we enter the flu season.
Influenza virus is thought to be spread by two main methods: direct airborne droplet infection, and through contact with contaminated surfaces (desks, doorknobs, toys, books, etc.). Most of us are aware of the risks of catching viral illness through direct inhalation, or by touching our mouth or nose after contacting a contaminated surface, but not everyone remembers that the eyes are another very common entry point for germs of all types, and the flu virus is no exception. Follow these guidelines to protect yourself and your family from catching H1N1 this flu season:
- Avoid touching or rubbing your eyes (as well as your nose or mouth). Studies show that the flu virus can survive on environmental surfaces and can infect a person for several hours after being deposited.
- Wear glasses
to prevent direct infection from airborne droplets. This is especially important for health care workers and others who work closely with people. Teachers and day care staff are also vulnerable, as children are less likely to practice proper infection control (coughing/sneezing into their sleeve or away from others). If you fall into one of these higher risk groups, you may want to consider wearing glasses even if you don’t need them to see clearly.
- If you use eye drops or wear contact lenses, it is important to wash your hands (soap and warm water for 15-20 seconds) prior to putting them in.
- Ensure that your health care providers – doctors, dentists, optometrists, and chiropractors – are practicing proper infection control measures. This means routinely disinfecting surfaces that infected individuals may come in contact with. Waiting room and exam room chairs and tables and instrumentation are examples. Frequent placement of alcohol-based hand sanitizer stations, and signage to remind staff and patients about infection control are great ideas as well. Ask if you are unsure of an office’s infection control procedures, or have not observed disinfection taking place in between patients. This is your health at stake.
If you own a business, consider taking a proactive approach to the H1N1 threat by developing policies that ensure less risk of flu virus transmission to your patrons and staff. Consider implementing the following:
- Educate your employees about the need to stay home when they are experiencing flu-like symptoms. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website www.cdc.gov recommends staying at home for a full 24 hours after your fever has gone to ensure you are not contagious.
- Develop a Human Resources Response Plan which outlines steps to take if several of your employees are unable to come into work due to being ill. This may include temporary closures or reduction of business hours. If some of your employees are parents they may need to miss work to take care of children in the event of school closures.
- Educate your customers about canceling their appointments and keeping their children home if they think they may have the flu. Relaxation of “No Show” or “Late Cancellation” office policies (which normally may charge for a missed appointment) to encourage customers with pre-scheduled appointments to remain at home if they are ill with the flu, will reduce the chances of transmitting to others.
- Have your employees get the H1N1 vaccine which is expected to become available late this fall
- Consider a temporary increase in your employee’s “sick leave benefit” to make it easier for them to make the decision to stay home if ill with the flu.
The massive flu outbreaks of our past can certainly cause us to become fearful of a severe pandemic. However, armed with the tools of education we can all take simple steps to reduce our own risks, as well as limiting our contribution to the spread of H1N1 infection.
Dr. Tom Wilk is an optometrist practicing at Mountain View Optometry in Calgary and Cochrane, Alberta.