Something in the air: disinfecting hand gels don’t help against H1N1

AFP reports the regular use of alcohol-based disinfecting hand gels authorities recommended during the swine flu pandemic has little effect on the disease’s infection rate, according to a US study.

The findings suggest that the pandemic virus A (H1N1) and similar strains may be most effectively transmitted in the air, rather than by contact with infected surfaces, the authors of the study said.

"An alcohol hand disinfectant with enhanced antiviral activity failed to significantly reduce the frequency of infection with either rhinovirus or influenza," wrote the authors of the study presented on Sunday at the Interscience Conference on Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy (ICAAC) in Boston.
Participants in the study disinfected their hands roughly every three hours over ten weeks between August 25 and November 9, 2009. Of that group, 42 out of 100 contracted rhinovirus infections, compared to 51 out of 100 in the control group.

Similarly, 12 of those regularly disinfecting their hands contracted the so-called swine flu, compared to 15 in the control group.

"The hand treatment also did not significantly reduce the frequency of illnesses caused by the viruses," said the authors of the study led by Ronald Turner of the University of Virginia.

The study was financed by the Dial Corporation, which makes various care and cleaning products, including alcohol-based hand sanitiser.

Compelling and disgusting messages might work better

As outbreaks of H1N1 continue to strike campuses across North America, our paper University Students’ Hand Hygiene Practice During a Gastrointestinal Outbreak in Residence: What They Say They Do and What They Actually Do,, keeps getting a bit of run. And a common discussion topic focuses on strategies that might work to affect hand hygiene practices.

One of the solutions we talk about is tailoring messages to the target audience. This means communicate with them like they talk amongst themselves and use trusted methods to get risk-reduction info out.

Bell and colleagues at Washington State University did this with their raw milk/Abuela project a decade ago. Recent publications out of the UK and Australia have focused on emotion and disgust in message building and even within a target audience, gender is a factor in intervention effectiveness.

These four papers demonstrate that generic, sanitized messages might be a waste of time and resources. A better bang for the public health buck might come from something more compelling and engaging. Or as Doug mentioned to the Nebraskan, "Wash your damn hands," and follow up with the consequences of not. They may or may not actually change their practices, but maybe you got their attention. 

Herpes, hepatitis A, swine flu — beer pong transmits disease?

No beer pong? What is college life without beer pong?

Last year, some publication at the University of California at Los Angeles – UCLA – warned students that beer pong, a communal drinking game, could be a source of infectious disease like herpes.

The N.Y Times reports tomorrow that students at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y., are being asked to refrain from playing beer pong after an outbreak of illness that officials feared might be swine flu.

The story notes that what used to be O.K. is not anymore, as the flu has ushered in new standards of etiquette that can be, in turns, mundane, absurd and heartbreaking.

Heartbreaking and beer pong. College life is tragic.

Is handwashing enough?

Washing your hands is great, but it isn’t enough to stop the spread of influenza. Experts from the University of California-Berkeley, Mark Nicas (Environmental Health Sciences) and Arthur Reingold (Epidemiology) say handwashing is one of several ways to combat influenza. Other ways include not touching your face (eyes nose, or mouth) and staying home from school or work if sick.

Reingold says you’re more likely to get sick from influenza, especially the H1N1 virus, from airborne particles because inhaling the flu particles gives you a larger dose than by touching a contaminated object. And, according to Nicas, students at UC Berkeley touch their face an average of 16 times per hour. That is 384 times to transmit what ever is on your hands into mucus glands located in your mouth, eyes, and nose in one day.

Since influenza transmission hasn’t been studied as much as other viruses, like the rhinovirus, the best method of prevention remains unknown. Still, handwashing is a wonderful tool to use; we must remember other preventative ways as well. Stay home and away from others if you’re sick or you feel like you’re getting sick, don’t touch your face, and cover your nose and mouth with your elbow when sneezing and coughing.

Air kissing or ‘la bise’ discouraged in France because of H1N1 flu

It was so confusing when I was in France: do you kiss anyone on the cheek or just friends; two pecks or three (the further south, the greater the frequency of the tri-peck). I usually defaulted to a handshake, but after a fabulous lunch with tons of great wine at a chateau near Bordeaux where I had unlimited Internet access for the first time in two weeks, I gave the dude a bi-peck at the train station – we had just met, and he was a little taken aback (that’s me and the dude at a wedding in Montreal a couple of months later 2007, right, below; look at that suit).

Now, according to  Associated Press, the French tradition of "la bise," the cheek-to-cheek peck that the French use to say hello or goodbye, has come under pressure from a globalized threat: swine flu.

Some French schools, companies and a Health Ministry hotline are telling students and employees to avoid the social ritual out of fear the pandemic could make it the kiss of death, or at least illness, as winter approaches.

For kids in two schools in the town of Guilvinec, in France’s western Brittany region, the first lesson of the year came from local officials: no more cheek kisses to teachers or other students.

The national government isn’t calling for a ban. But the Health Ministry, on its swine flu phone hotline, recommends that people avoid "close contact — including shaking hands and giving the bise."

Pray the flu away: Religious groups become involved in H1N1 prevention

Manhattan feels markedly different this fall. Returning to campus, I’ve seen Doug’s “How to avoid H1N1 and seasonal flu” in every bathroom in the veterinary medicine buildings. Everyone’s whispering about H1N1 and many preventative methods have been put in place to keep the flu at bay. At St. Isidore’s Catholic Church, they’ve even gone as far as to discontinue communion wine for the congregation. Chaplain Fr Keith Weber says that the decision was made by the staff and not mandated by the diocese. Will it be mandatory in the future?

Drinking the communion wine always felt like a bit of Russian roulette for me. How healthy was the person who drank before me? During the winter when the whole church was coughing and hacking, I decided to skip it entirely. I had accepted the fact that this public health nightmare would continue indefinitely. St. Isidore’s new policy of discontinuing communion wine is definitely a smart move to join the “avoid H1N1” campaign.

The policy for distributing communion wafers has always been to wash your hands before the service starts, but now there is also a bottle of antibacterial available to use immediately before giving out communion. St. Isidore’s is just one of many churches around the country (and globally) implementing these anti-flu strategies. The virus once known as swine flu has affected the practices of Christians and Muslims, especially in Great Britain.

The archbishops of Canterbury and York said the church’s worship needed to "take into account the interests of public health during the current phase of the swine flu pandemic."

The Muslim Council of Britain has released guidelines to Muslims urging imams and mosque committee members to increase the awareness among the Muslim community about the dangers of using communal towels during cleansing ceremonies before worship.

As far as working against H1N1, it’s a good step in the right direction. Even once the pandemic has blown over, shouldn’t these practices stay in place to prevent future diseases?

Handwashing habits have not changed: the survey is in

Bradley Corporation, leading manufacture of commercial bathroom and locker room furnishings, released a national survey confirming H1N1 virus has not changed handwashing habits of Americans. Approximately 54 per cent of surveyed individuals said they “wash their hands no more or less frequently” since H1N1 flu virus has emerged.

Jon Dommisse, Bradley Corporation’s director of marketing and product development said, “we were extremely surprised by that response especially since the medical community calls hand washing the best defense against the spread of cold and flu viruses.”

Handwashing is recommended by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Washing your hands “is a simple thing to do and it’s the best way to prevent infection and illness.”

The online survey was administered July 28-31 to 1,020 Americans regarding handwashing in public restrooms. Individuals were from across the country, equally male and female, and ranged from 18-65+ years old.

H1N1 flu vaccine: strategies questioned

In a six-hour meeting yesterday, Sunday, August 23, at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Trevose, Bucks County, Pennsylvania, the H1N1 flu vaccine was discussed. The main question was how to approach the public: “full throttle” and “go slow” options were debated. The meeting included watching videos about pandemics, vaccines, and the brief history of H1N1.

The vaccine would be taken on a voluntary basis regardless of the panel’s decision, but how educating the public, the benefits or risks of the vaccine, and possible mandating of the vaccine seems to be what most of the panel members are concerned with.

Prevention of H1N1 by handwashing did not seem to be a topic of conversation.

This meeting is one of ten that are occurring across the US. To read the full article, click here.

Is this picture too gross? Will you think about washing your hands? H1N1 edition

Those ubiquitous signs, “Employees Must Wash Hands” probably don’t have the desired effect. Jon Stewart says, they sure ain’t keeping the piss out of your Happy Meals.

Some people have told us images like the one below, are too graphic and will offend people. Maybe. I’m offended that people don’t wash their hands which can lead to other people barfing and spreading things like the H1N1 virus. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control seems to agree, and has called for new food safety messages using new media.

So with all those germ factories … I mean students … returning to the confined quarters of residence living, here’s some tips for not barfing:

• Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it.

• If you are sick with flu-like symptoms, stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone. Keep away from others as much as possible.

• Wash your hands often especially after you cough or sneeze.  Alcohol-based hand cleaners are also effective, but are best used after proper handwashing.

Preparing for flu in the Soo

OK, I blog a lot about Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario. Maybe it’s because I’m away from home, but usually it just cracks me up to read what the local Sooites are up to this week. Regardless, The Sault Star reports that the local university and college campuses are preparing for September and potential outbreaks of H1N1 virus.

Since swine flu emerged in April, Sault College’s health and safety committee started preparing a pandemic plan… Via e-mails and the school’s dozens of "infonet screens" throughout the building, students and staff were also bombarded with information about prevention and containment through, for example, handwashing, sneezing into the elbow and staying in your room or home if not feeling well. As well, hand sanitizer dispensers were placed in high-use areas, such as computer rooms, cafeteria and workout areas…

[Algoma University] also plans to put up information posters and bulletins reflecting the latest from the World Health Organization and distributing hand sanitizers to every employee…

The confined quarters of university and college dorms can lead to illness outbreaks, and handwashing signs and sanitizer are OK for trying to promote hand hygiene – if the medium grabs your attention and the message is compelling. Dirty Finger Al (pictured), my favourite Food Safety Infosheet, did just that, sparking dialogue among food handlers. Will the handwashing signs in Sault College and Algoma U spark dialogue, or go unnoticed by students come September?