The Swine Flu. We’ll remember those words for a long time, won’t we? It’s getting more coverage than Heidi and Spencer put together, which may have prompted Spencer to quip one of my favorite quote of the year, “I’m not even trying to get pig flu.”
I’ve always been a big hand washer. Having grown up with more allergies than you could even imagine, my mom always stayed on me about washing my hands. Not only to get the allergens off, but my allergies often had me swiping at my nose and eyes and she told me horror stories about germs riding into my body through these swipes.
I go through a great deal of hand soap and antibacterial hand gels.
I can’t help but wonder if allergies are part of the reason the Swine Flu is spreading so fast. The experts tell us that we catch it when our hands are contaminated, then we pass the contamination into our nose, eyes, or mouth. With the trees and flowers in beautiful bloom – many of us are swiping, rubbing, and scratching like never before.
Dr. John Boyce, chief of the Infectious Diseases Section at the Hospital of Saint Raphael in New Haven, Connecticut, and lead author of the Centers for Disease Control’s national hand hygiene guidelines for health-care workers recently told CNN.com:
Although little information is available at this time, it appears that this influenza virus spreads from one person to another in the same way as other influenza viruses — by “droplet spread.”
Respiratory droplets are generated when an infected person coughs or sneezes and expels droplets of fluid. Those droplets travel short distances (usually less than three feet) through the air and can be deposited on the mouth or in the nose of people or on surfaces.
Those who develop influenza often shed large amounts of virus in their respiratory secretions for several days after they become ill. Experience with other viruses suggests that individuals with influenza can contaminate their hands when coughing, sneezing or blowing their noses. The virus can survive on the hands for at least one hour.
If a person whose hands are heavily contaminated touches a surface such as a doorknob, table or computer keyboard, they can deposit the virus onto that surface, where it can survive for minutes to several hours. One study conducted with a regular seasonal strain of influenza virus found that the virus could survive on facial tissues for several minutes and for two to eight hours on stainless steel or plastic surfaces.
If another person touches a contaminated surface with his hands when the virus is still alive and then touches his own mouth or nose, he may become infected. Infection might also occur when a person with influenza shakes hands with another person who subsequently touches their own mouth or nose with their fingers.
And there we have the good doctor’s version of the same horror story my mom told me. I’m running to the store for more antibacterial hand gel. I always buy in bulk so my daughters can keep some in their purses, so we have some in the car, etc.
Dr. Boyce points out that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that individuals wash their hands frequently during influenza outbreaks. Yes, as a matter of fact, that should probably go without saying – but it’s one of those things that most of us simply have to be reminded of and encouraged to do.
Either plain soap or antimicrobial soap will reduce the amount of virus on the hands. To ensure decontamination, be sure to wash your hands vigorously and keep both soap and water on your hands for at least 15 seconds.
When sinks are not readily available, alcohol-based hand sanitizers are a convenient and effective way of eliminate the virus from hands. Use an amount of sanitizer at least the size of quarter or enough to keep your hands wet for at least 15 to 20 seconds while you’re rubbing them together.
Those who are ill need to remember to wash their hands very frequently as well – and anything they touch should be kindly but thoroughly cleaned!
A final word – and you can also file this under It Goes Without Saying – be sure to tell the children in your life to frequently wash their hands. Kids tend to approach life with an all or nothing attitude and often think of hand washing as an elaborate scheme adults use to slow them down. During outbreaks like this, I’d be willing to chance the eye rolls and stand behind them while they scrub away. 1 Mississippi, 2 Mississippi, 3 Mississippi…
The CDC recommends that if you do get sick – do everyone, including yourself, a favor and stay home. Don’t go to work, don’t go shopping, don’t go to Starbucks (please, please, please don’t go to Starbucks). More information about swine flu can be found at the CDC’s web site.
Be safe, be cautious, be well, and wash your hands so often they’d swear you’ve developed an obsession.