IN THE SPOTLIGHT
Washing Away the Flu
A major effort is underway across the campus to educate the campus community about the value of frequent hand washing in stopping the spread of flu viruses. Recent concerns about the possibility of a flu pandemic have heightened awareness of prevention programs as a proactive strategy.
According to Robin Kolble, RN and manager of Community Health Education at CU's Wardenburg Health Center, "It takes just 15 seconds of hand washing to help prevent transmission of respiratory illness. We can't say it enough: 'Wash your hands frequently.' Use of hand sanitizer is equally good." She confirms the popular idea that singing one verse of "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" or the "CU Fight Song" is about as long as you need to wash your hands.
Kolble's 2001 published study of hand washing as a preventive measure demonstrated that the use of hand sanitizers can be highly effective in increasing the rate of washing and in reducing reported illnesses. Respiratory illness is the number one complaint of students visiting Wardenburg. In the study, 26 percent fewer cases of upper respiratory illness were reported where hand sanitizers had been installed.
This eight-week study captured the attention of Paul Tabolt, Vice Chancellor of Administration, when he heard about it from a colleague at the Denver Health Medical Center while attending a pandemic prevention event. "I was excited about the idea of setting up sanitizer units on campus when I learned that Denver Health had statistically improved the frequency of hand washing with them," he said. As a result, hand sanitizer installation has begun as a pilot program on campus. "We have installed 90 sanitizers in classroom buildings, around doorways and exits," Kolble added. "Housing has them in the dining halls and restrooms." Filling the sanitizers was completed recently.
Hand washing during international travel is another front in the battle for flu prevention. Frequent hand washing is vital in countries in which poultry is abundant and in any rural areas where travelers might be exposed. Avian flu is especially of serious concern for countries like Indonesia, which has had the most outbreaks. China experienced a SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) outbreak several years ago, and Vietnam has seen avian flu in rural areas.
"Our efforts are very different from those on the campus," said Larry Bell, director of the Office of International Education. "In the event of a pandemic, our strategy is twofold: first, to maintain people safely where they are, and second, when necessary to bring them home or send them home. Many students take time out and travel on their own and we have a hard time getting information to them." OIE monitors the State Department and the Centers for Disease Control websites, among others. "We advise travelers to follow advice from those sites about such things as bringing masks or gloves."
Sylvia Dane, emergency management coordinator for the Boulder campus, offers an additional precaution: Anyone who travels overseas and becomes sick upon returning to Colorado is advised to contact their doctor immediately, especially if they returned from a country or area of a country that had a recent outbreak of flu or other communicable disease, such as SARS. They should also phone before showing up to the emergency room so that medical personnel can isolate them and keep them from infecting others.
On the Boulder campus, Kolble stresses that in addition to hand washing, "respiratory etiquette" is key in preventing the spread of respiratory illness. "Cover your cough, preferably with a tissue," she says, "and practice 'social distancing.' Flu hits like a Mack truck, it doesn't creep up on you like a cold. One minute you are well and the next, you're sick. Stay home and avoid contact with others." And remember that little song "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" the next time you wash your hands. And the next and the next.
Visit the Pandemic Flu Planning website for more details
Understanding the Differences Between Seasonal, Avian and Pandemic Flu
Washing Away the Flu
Better Safe Than Sorry: Rehearsing for a Flu Pandemic
Pandemic Flu—A Call for Social Justice Action
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