In April 2009 the so-called Swine Flu, now classified as novel H1N1 Influenza A, first appeared in Mexico and soon spread to the United States and throughout the world.
On June 11, 2009 the World Health Organization (WHO) classified H1N1 as a Phase 6 pandemic alert level. This is the first time in 41 years that an alert has reached this top pandemic level. As of September 4, 2009 the WHO recognized that nearly every country has been affected by H1N1 and there have been 2,837 deaths globally. France indicated that they are now showing 20,000 new cases weekly and are asking residents to avoid close personal contact such as hand shaking and even their customary greeting of kissing each other on the cheek.
WHAT IS THE CONCERN WITH THIS PANDEMIC?
With the Phase 6 pandemic alert level, the WHO is recognizing that H1N1 is not going away. Some areas already hit by H1N1 are seeing a resurgence of cases. Right now, H1N1 is listed as a moderate concern, meaning that most people who contract this illness will have mild symptoms and not need medicine. However, we are still regularly hearing about more deaths in the news.
Most people have not been previously exposed to H1N1 in order to build their natural immunity, so it is expected to spread more quickly. A vaccine is currently in production, with release scheduled sometime in October. However, the number of vaccines available and the fact that this will be a two-part vaccine, requiring one initial shot and a second to follow after three weeks, means that flu season will already be in motion before those who get the vaccine will have the full benefit of protection.
The WHO, CDC and U.S. Government agencies are cautioning against getting too complacent. Possible scenarios publicized by these groups indicate that 30% to 50% of the U.S. population could be affected with this second wave and that while most cases will show moderate symptoms, up to 1.8 million hospital admissions are possible. The serious threat is that there could then be 30,000 to 90,000 deaths expected, with a majority of these cases occurring within the younger population. This compares to an average of 36,000 deaths from seasonal influenza in the past that are usually centered in the aging population.
HOW IS H1N1 SPREAD?
The H1N1 influenza is spread primarily from person-to-person contact. As one person coughs or sneezes, H1N1 is carried in the droplets of moisture that are spread into the air. It can be spread directly to a person or it can remain on hard surfaces, such as counter tops, desk tops and door knobs and be transferred when a person then touches that hard surface.
HOW CAN UNITED LABORATORIES HELP YOU PREPARE FOR H1N1?
With the evolving H1N1 pandemic and seasonal influenza, there are a few simple steps recommended for controlling the spread of illness.
1. Practice and Promote Good Personal Hygiene.
Having clean hands is a key factor in preventing the spread of illness. Regular hand washing and sanitizing is one of your best lines of defense. The CDC recommends regular washing with soap and water for a minimum of 20 seconds per wash to get the germs off. Between washings, use of an alcohol based hand sanitizer (60% alcohol recommended) is suggested for sanitizing the hands. When an alcohol based sanitizer is not available or not allowed in certain situations, then a non-alcohol hand sanitizer can be effective.
United can help you follow the CDC hand hygiene recommendations with the following products:
A procedure should be put in place to disinfect all common areas where bacteria and germs can live and grow. Areas such as washrooms, locker rooms, class rooms, cafeterias, hallways, wrestling rooms and gyms should be scheduled for regular disinfection.
Use of an EPA registered disinfectant is recommended. While currently there are no products specifically registered and tested for H1N1, this new strain is a sub-set of influenza A, and it is first recommended to use an EPA registered product that reflects claims for other strains of influenza A on the label. If these are not available, then the use of any EPA registered disinfectant product is recommended to provide protection.
United recommends disinfecting common areas by fogging with the following products:
• Fogging with United 64 BACFIGHTER and the A128 FOGMASTER Jr. or the A183 Tri-Jet Fogger makes disinfecting large areas a snap. United 64 BACFIGHTER is a quaternary disinfectant, sanitizer, fungicide and virucide. It is effective against many bacteria and virus strains including influenza.
We don’t like the notion that most toilet bowls are cleaner than many other surfaces that we come in contact with regularly, but it is true that you’ll find more germs on door knobs, railings, counter tops and desktops. That is why it is so important to make sure that these surfaces get regular cleaning and disinfecting. Depending on the amount of communal contact involved, sanitizing of these types of surfaces may be needed more frequently during flu season. Again, products that will be beneficial fall in line with the recommendations noted for disinfecting all common areas above.
United recommends the following EPA registered products for cleaning and disinfecting hard surfaces:
4. Other Key Elements to Preventing the Spread Include:
› People should always cough or sneeze into a tissue or their sleeve at the bend of the elbow.
› People should avoid touching their hands to their mouth, nose or eyes as these are all entry ways for the spread of germs.
› If someone is not feeling well, particularly if they have a fever, they should stay home until the fever has been gone for 24 hours.
› Everyone should stay up-to-date on and follow public health advice, regarding school closures and avoiding large crowds.
WILL WE HAVE TO WORRY ABOUT H1N1 IN THE FUTURE?
After the initial pandemic situation abates, it is expected that the H1N1 influenza will remain a part of our seasonal influenza concerns in the future. As this year's flu season starts to return, it appears that H1N1 is the dominant strain that is causing illness. The good news is that it does not appear to be mutating further at this point. So as we build our natural immunity and vaccines are put in place, it should have less of an impact another year or so in the future.
Following the above guidelines now and in the future will help protect you from seasonal infuenza and many other illnesses.