Handwashing, staying home among ways to keep H1N1 flu at bay

Ordinary Canadians got an opportunity this week to ask the experts how to prepare for a possible second wave of H1N1 flu this fall, and their questions suggest that many still feel unclear about what they should do.

Ordinary Canadians got an opportunity this week to ask the experts how to prepare for a possible second wave of H1N1 flu this fall, and their questions suggest that many still feel unclear about what they should do.

The Lung Association, which had invited Canadians to send in questions about the pandemic flu strain, convened a panel of doctors to provide answers in a media teleconference that will be made accessible to the public.

Cameron Bishop, director of government affairs, said that while the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) has done a good job getting out a broad message about how to prepare for an H1N1 surge, the Lung Association wanted to provide “easy-to-understand information relevant to their families.”

“What we’re hearing from people on the ground, from regional offices, certainly from emails that we have received, is people don’t understand what they should be doing on a personal level,” Bishop said in an interview from Ottawa.

Questions were sent in by email or via Twitter and covered a wide variety of issues from what symptoms H1N1 causes to the wisdom of attending “flu parties.” Concerns over what to do if a child has asthma and whether kids should wear masks to school or daycare were also addressed.

The panel of four doctors agreed first and foremost that adults and children alike should follow simple infection prevention measures such as frequent handwashing, coughing or sneezing into one’s elbow, and avoiding contact with people who are sick.

And anyone who does come down with pandemic flu symptoms — which can include fever, runny nose, cough, sore throat, fatigue and body aches — should stay at home, said spokesman Dr. Peter MacLeod.

One member of the public had asked whether children should be sent to school or daycare wearing masks to protect themselves from contracting the pandemic flu strain. Dr. Sharon Dell, a respiratory disease researcher at Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children, responded that she saw no need for children to do so.

Dr. Ken Scott, a member of PHAC’s pandemic preparedness division, said public health officials do not recommend that people don masks, either “walking out through the community or going to school.”

“They give a false sense of protection and there is no evidence that wearing these masks will actually make any difference in terms of whether you acquire the influenza virus or not.”

Scott also strongly advised parents not to deliberately expose themselves or their children to someone infected with H1N1 at so-called “flu parties” to “build immunity,” as one person put it in an email.

While most cases of H1N1 are mild, the virus has caused significant illness in many previously healthy people aged six months to 50 years old, said Scott.

On the Net: www.lung.ca/h1n1flu

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