If a pandemic flu strikes, government health officials will issue information and warnings, and work with the media to disseminate advice on how to avoid becoming ill. Your company’s managers, human resources department and employees should pay close attention to the guidance provided by your County’s Department of Public Health, the Maryland Department of Health & Mental Hygiene (www.dhmh.state.md.us) and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (www.cdc.gov.) Other organizations that provide assistance in public health emergencies include the American Red Cross (www.redcross.org) and the World Health Organization (www.who.org.)
To combat the spread of flu, you should take the usual steps associated with healthy living; eat a balanced diet, exercise daily, get enough rest and drink plenty of fluids. It is also a good idea to get your seasonal flu shot.
In addition, you should:
- Wash hands frequently using soap and water. Alcohol-based cleaners are also effective (see methods below);
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth. Germs spread that way;
- Cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue. Put the used tissues in the trash and then wash your hands;
- Avoid close contact with people who are sick;
- Stay away from others as much as possible if you do get sick; and
- If you get sick, the CDC recommends that you stay home from work or school and limit contact with others to keep from infecting them.
Hand washing, when done properly, is one of the best ways to avoid getting sick. Many people simply do not practice this essential health habit as often as they should, even after using the restroom. Throughout the day, one accumulates germs on the hands from a variety of sources, including direct contact with people, contaminated surfaces, foods, even animals and animal waste. If the hands are not adequately washed, people can infect themselves with germs by touching the eyes, nose, or mouth, through which germs enter the body. The germs can then be spread to others by touching surfaces they touch, like phones, computers, and doorknobs.
Many infectious diseases are spread through hand-to-hand contact. These include the common cold, flu, and several gastrointestinal disorders, such as infectious diarrhea. Inadequate hand hygiene also contributes to food-related illnesses including salmonella and E. coli.
Proper Hand Washing Technique
When using soap and water:
- Wet the hands with warm running water, apply liquid soap or clean bar soap, and lather well.
- Rub the hands vigorously for 20 seconds or longer. It takes that long for the soap and scrubbing action to dislodge and remove stubborn germs. Need a timer? Imagine singing “Happy Birthday” all the way through – twice!
- Scrub all surfaces, including the backs of the hands, wrists, thumbs, between the fingers, and under fingernails.
- Rinse well.
- Dry with a disposable towel or by hot air.
If soap and clean water are not available, advise workers to use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 percent alcohol. Alcohol-based hand rubs significantly reduce the number of germs on skin and are fast acting. When using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer:
- Apply about a half teaspoon into the palm of the hands.
- Rub the hands together covering all surfaces until they're dry.
- If hands are visibly dirty, wash with soap and water.
In a worst-case scenario, “business as usual” may cease. Government health officials may have to implement dramatic measures, including shutting down certain businesses that involve high levels of interaction with the public, such as restaurants and theaters. Health officials may also have to restrict travel, cancel public events and close schools. To be prepared, you should put together emergency supplies for your staff and make sure they are freshened regularly.
A more comprehensive pandemic planning checklist for individuals and families has been developed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and can be found at www.pandemicflu.gov.