Published on Wednesday, 30 November -0001 00:00
I think I have a pretty "healthy" view of germs and their role on Earth. Essentially, a life without a little dirt and germs is a life without immunity and without fun. Germs and bacteria are a needed part of nature and natural processes.
I most definitely have limits: I prefer the British "11-second rule" to the American "6-second rule" (regarding an M&M, for instance, that has fallen onto a relatively clean floor); I acknowledge that "expiration" dates on food packaging are intended for best taste, not that the food automatically turns bad at midnight after the appointed date; and I firmly believe that clothing oftentimes can be worn but still "clean" (and thus wearable again before washing it).
I've also never liked sticky hands. In kindergarten I thought fingerpainting was disgusting and couldn't wait to wash the goo off my hands, even though it's "clean." And I probably wash my hands more frequently than most.
But all that is about to change. I am about to become the queen of handwashing. I don't plan to become a full-on germophobe (the correct term is "mysophobe," someone who is unreasonably fearful of germs), but I certainly plan to act like one.
Stearns County public health and disaster preparedness officials are busy planning for a disastrous hit of the H1N1 pandemic this fall. And they are holding meetings with various groups to help them prepare for their role in this potential worst-case scenario. Wednesday afternoon it was "media's" turn. (My first surprise was that there were only two other newspapers there; most were from radio.)
What I learned was that, even if this fall's expected return of H1N1 influenza (formerly called swine flu) is relatively minor, like it was in the spring, local clinics and hospitals will have far more to handle than they are able. Fall is the time of so-called regular flu, something from which 50,000 people die every year without much fanfare or news coverage. Add an outbreak of a new kind of flu and things will change for everyone, ready or not.
For one thing, any kind of elective or non-essential medical procedures (including surgeries and general physicals) will have to stop.
The other, scarier thing is that the new flu could affect more young adults than the regular flu which mostly affects the very young and the very old: that's our workforce. Who will make deliveries to gas stations or grocery stores - and who will sell those items - if much of our working-age population is sick (or worse)? Who will teach or supervise children in schools, if schools are able to stay open at all? Who will manufacture items needed for our modern lifestyles? Who will care for the sick?
The question posed to us in the media is what role will we play in relaying information from the county, state, and national offices about an outbreak? What are the absolutely essential roles of our office here? And who will perform those roles if someone is ill?
This is something we'll need to work on in the coming weeks.
I've always been in favor of contingency plans, but rarely have gone too deeply into them. I always figure it (the epidemic, the "big one" earthquake, killer snowstorm, car accident, or tornado) won't happen to me or my family.
But this time will be different.
We'll not only make up a plan, but we'll all start acting like germophobes.
Don't worry, I'll still shake hands and touch papers that are brought in, but I'll be washing my hands a lot more too.
Handwashing is the very best way to prevent the spread of influenza, whether it's H1N1 or "regular" flu. Covering your cough, and staying home when you're sick are the magic three prevention tips. I invite you to join me in washing away disease germs.
The soap's on me (or at least some hand sanitizer)!