The possible swine flu assault upon America is more and more on the minds of many. The news reports speculation that when schools reopen the number of those inflicted can be expected to grow exponentially.
Conferences have been offered within our profession as to the possibility that our facilities will be overwhelmed. Statistics attempting to guess at the number of deaths resulting from the swine flu influenza are only estimates whose foundations represent the author’s fears or hopes.
I have received confidential updates from funeral directors who are participants in Disaster Mortuary Response Team (DMORT). The Federal Government conducted a 3 day conference in Nashville in which Funeral Directors (which probably include cemeterians) are in Tier 1 for inoculations. Tier 1 includes the Executive and the military. Tier 2 covers medical responders.
The newspapers are full of questions by readers and health columns receive questions daily as to how to avoid contact with flu germs. The Hon. Peter Vallone, Sr., former Speaker of the New York City Council and candidate for Governor of New York kindly sent me a copy of an article by Dr. Steven Garner, MD.
The question the Doctor was answering was by a person who rides the subway in New York of how to avoid contracting the flu. “The subway is in the top 10 list of areas that act as breeding grounds for the flu and colds.” This seems as obvious as passengers of a plane are forced to breadth the same air.
What may not be common knowledge is that hard surfaces are often contaminated. Stainless steel is a great place for germs to live easily picked up by human hands. Scarves and gloves offer little if any protection. Handshaking, kissing, kitchen sponges and dishcloths, toilet seats and door knobs all pose a danger. Similarly drinking fountains, shopping carts, office equipment, and gas station pumps all are breeding grounds.
The key to staying healthy is washing frequently and apparently a lot of luck. The realities of life are that human to human contact is unavoidable and with contact comes the germs that will make us ill. There is nothing new about this. The uniqueness this year is a strain of influenza that has a proven track record for taking lives. The lives most susceptible are the young, vital and healthy. There must have been a strain of influenza years ago that afforded older members of society with some protection.
The obvious factor that will directly impact our profession is the frequency of new and deadly diseases attacking us. Several years ago it was SARS and avian flu. Today it is swine flu.
As the ultimate care providers our profession is depended upon when our clients are stresses and threatened. This year, like in 1917, we may be called upon as First Responders. We can only hope that the fears turn out to be over stated.