Saturday, April 25, 2009

Swine flu?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has updated its instructions for the public, for health professionals, and for laboratories regarding the swine influenza A virus (H1N1) that has been identified in Mexico and in parts of Texas and California.

There is a story in today's New York Times about the possible swine flu infection of students at a school in Queens, NY. Some students were reportedly in Mexico recently.

Now is the time to remind ourselves about lessons learned from the SARS outbreak in 2003 -- just in case the N1H1 virus turns out to be highly contagious and an international threat.

On March 7, 2003, different SARS patients reported within hours of one another to different hospitals in Vancouver and Toronto, Canada. According to the subsequent report by a Canadian Commission, the health care personnel responded differently in each city. As I have written before:
Because the Vancouver hospital followed strict precautions, there was no SARS epidemic in British Columbia. In Toronto precautions were inconsistently used. As a result, 44 people died in Ontario and 375 became sick with SARS. 'Of the…people who contracted SARS in Ontario,' says the [Commission's] report, '72 percent were infected in a health care setting….[and] 45 percent were health care workers.' In Vancouver only one health care worker contracted SARS.
If standard precautions are not used consistently by health care workers, we put ourselves at risk. Worse, we become part of the chain of infection for others.

With a new strain of swine flu in the news, it seems a good time for all of us in health care to remind ourselves about the importance of following standard precautions 100% of the time.

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