Here are 15 simple points gathered from the nation’s leading sources on pandemic preparedness:
1 — Cover your cough – If you have to cough, show some manners, and consideration for the health of others… You may already be ill and not know it. Think about others, too. Are your co-workers coughing? Have them cover their mouths. If you want to be really safe, prepare your workplace with masks. Many do not understand the difference in masks, but it is really quite simple: N95 and other “rated” and form fitting masks are to protect the well from inhaling airborne pathogens. Procedural masks (like what a surgeon wears) are for the ill, to help them cover their mouths and noses to avoid expelling pathogens towards the well. (Avoid new “miracle masks” claiming unheard of protection and germ-killing properties… If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.)
2 — Wash your hands frequently – Cooties! Think about all the things you touch every day. Think about how many others touch them and breathe on them. Are they ill? Now… think about how often you touch your face. Try counting for 5-10 minutes… you would be surprised. Wash your hands. Hot soap and water are great. Hand sanitizers are handy when hot water is not available. Other great options are benzalkonium chloride (BZK) wipes — those nice clean towelettes — that are so handy to have around. Benzalkonium chloride solutions are rapidly acting biocidal (capable of destroying living organisms) agents with a moderately long duration of action. They are active against bacteria and some viruses, fungi, and protozoa. Pass them around to co-workers, stash them in your pocket, wallet, purse, glove box, lunch box, briefcase, wherever.
3 — If you think you have been exposed – You do not need to stay home yet, but monitor your symptoms, and avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth – germs spread this way.
4 — If you have a fever, stay home for at least 24 hours after the fever has ended.
5 — Get a vaccine when it becomes available – Rest assured that the regulatory procedures in place for the licensing of pandemic vaccines, including procedures for expediting regulatory approval, are rigorous and do not compromise safety or quality controls.
6 — Wipe it, sanitize it, keep it clean – Germs can be spread when a person touches something that is contaminated with germs and then touches his or her eyes, nose, or mouth. Droplets from a cough or sneeze of an infected person move through the air. Germs can be spread when a person touches respiratory droplets from another person on a surface like a desk, for example, and then touches their own eyes, mouth or nose before washing their hands. Wipe it down. Provide your staff or cleaning crew with germicidal disinfecting solutions for cleaning desks, phones, common areas, etc (with gloves or other appropriated personal protective equipment donned, first, of course).
7 — Keep a special eye on expecting mothers – Pregnant women are known to be at higher risk for seasonal influenza complications. Recent studies show they might also be at higher risk for novel H1N1 influenza complications.
8 — Is it safe to eat pork and pork products? – Yes. Influenza A(H1N1) has not been shown to be transmissible to people through eating properly handled and prepared pork (pig meat) or other products derived from pigs. The influenza A(H1N1) virus is killed by cooking temperatures of 160°F/70°C, corresponding to the general guidance for the preparation of pork and other meat.6
9 — If you think you are sick – You probably will not be able to tell the difference between seasonal flu and influenza A(H1N1) without medical help. Typical symptoms to watch for are similar to seasonal viruses and include fever, cough, headache, body aches, sore throat and runny nose. Only your medical practitioner and local health authority can confirm a case of influenza A(H1N1).
10 — Treatment – If you feel unwell, have high fever, cough or sore throat:
- stay at home and keep away from work, school or crowds;
- rest and take plenty of fluids;
- cover your nose and mouth when coughing and sneezing and, if using tissues, make sure you dispose of them carefully;
- clean your hands immediately after with soap and water or cleanse them with an alcohol-based hand rub;
- if you do not have a tissue close by when you cough or sneeze, cover your mouth as much as possible with the crook of your elbow;
- use a mask to help you contain the spread of droplets when you are around others, but be sure to do so correctly;
- inform family and friends about your illness and try to avoid contact with other people;
- if possible, contact a health professional before traveling to a health facility to discuss whether a medical examination is necessary.
11 — Don’t panic – According to the World Health Organization (WHO), this H1N1 pandemic is currently of “moderate” severity, with the overwhelming majority of patients recovering, even without medical treatment, within a week of the onset of symptoms.
12 — Isolation – While it may be difficult to enforce sick leave or isolation of an employee you suspect has either be exposed to H1N1, or may have contracted H1N1, try to get the employee to voluntarily separate or isolate themselves.
13 — Antiviral drugs – The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends the use of oseltamivir (brand name Tamiflu ®) or zanamivir (brand name Relenza ®) for the treatment and/or prevention of infection with swine influenza viruses. These are prescription drugs, so consult your physician.
14 — Educate – As an employer, you should provide written guidance (email, etc.) on novel influenza A (H1N1) flu appropriate for the language and literacy levels of everyone in the workplace. As an individual, teach your family, friends and co-workers these simple points.
15 — Don’t be fooled – Retailers and manufacturers prey on a fearful public. As noted in point one, “If it sounds too good to be true…” check out the fraudulent product listings at the FDA.
Make wise decisions, study your environment, and PREPARE. Pandemic flu exposure can be easily minimized.
Flu Terms Defined
Seasonal (or common) flu is a respiratory illness that can be transmitted person to person. Most people have some immunity, and a vaccine is available.
Novel H1N1 flu is a new influenza virus causing illness in people. This new virus was first detected in the U.S. in April 2009, and has spread to many countries around the world.
Bird flu is commonly used to refer to Avian flu (see below). Bird flu viruses infect birds, including chickens, other poultry and wild birds such as ducks.
Avian flu (AI) is caused by influenza viruses that occur naturally among wild birds. Low pathogenic AI is common in birds and causes few problems. Highly pathogenic H5N1 is deadly to domestic fowl, can be transmitted from birds to humans, and is deadly to humans. There is virtually no human immunity and human vaccine availability is very limited.
Pandemic flu is virulent human flu that causes a global outbreak, or pandemic, of serious illness. Because there is little natural immunity, the disease can spread easily from person to person.