Posts Tagged ‘swine flu’

Revisited: The importance of hand-washing

September 19, 2009

I’m glad to notice that the fourth week of September has once again been declared National Clean Hands Week. This is not one of those cheesy designations by Congress; instead, the week of Sept. 20-26 was chosen by the Soap and Detergent Association (SDA) to “encourage a healthy home, workplace and office” with the purchase and use of the cleaning products and oleochemicals made by their trade association members.

I discovered the existence of the SDA with the aid of a framed document posted at my workplace, titled “A Checklist for Washing Hands”. As I’ve written before, my company is big into standard processes so it only makes sense that such a list would be posted in a position of prominence, in the men’s room. Because the document is dated February of 2002, I’m guessing this concern for our health and safety was some type of misdirected response to 9/11.

The checklist is prefaced by results from a survey conducted by the association which asserts that some 40% of American workers don’t wash their hands often or long enough (emphasis SDA’s). Consider that the SDA also claims that 58% of employers don’t encourage better cleanliness habits in their workers. “While most people employ good cleaning habits at home, they have less control in the workplace,” notes director of consumer affairs Nancy Bock, who holds a job apparently even worse than mine. I might think some less-than-positive things about my current employer but I sure can’t say they aren’t concerned about my cleanliness – I mean they posted the checklist in frame.

The list itself is in two parts: when to wash your hands and, of course, how. The “when” includes each time you use the restroom, before and after staff meetings if food is served (I assume that would also cover my company meetings, where bring your own pathetic sandwich is more the rule), after scanning newspapers in the breakroom, before and after a meet-and-greet activity (where you might have to touch grubby customers) and after disposing of freshly killed vermin. Actually, I added that last one myself. I guess it should go without saying, but if we’re going to have a checklist it needs to be thorough and allow no room for old-fashioned notions of common sense.

The “how” of hand-washing is stunning in its detail. You should wet hands with warm running water prior to reaching for soap, either in bar or liquid form; rub hands together to make a lather; wash the front and back of hands for 15 seconds or more; and rinse hands well under warm water. As Bock notes, “washing often, about eight times a day or more (emphasis both of ours) is the first step.” This seems to be bordering on the obsessive-compulsive to me, but of course I’m not selling soap.

I suppose I shouldn’t be mocking the sincere efforts of the Soap and Detergent Association. I really don’t want myself or my coworkers to end up like the little clip-art guy in the corner of the frame with a thermometer in his mouth and an ice bag on his head. Since 1926, under the leadership of a 25-member Board of Directors and over 40 committees, subcommittees, task forces and working groups, the SDA has been dedicated to advancing public understanding of the safety and benefits of cleaning products. I know lobbyists are currently under a bit of a cloud in the public eye, but I just can’t imagine these guys leaning on lawmakers for multi-million-dollar cleanser earmarks.

I decided to go to their website to learn more about the unceasing effort to keep the American public from being so disgusting. In addition to consumer education efforts like the one I encountered, the group is involved in research, government affairs and coordinating efforts with international associations. To encourage these missions, they sponsor two awards — the Glycerine Innovation Award, given in collaboration with the American Oil Chemists’ Society, and an award recognizing the best technical paper in the Journal of Surfactants and Detergents. I wonder if I might qualify for next year’s honor with this piece.

As I read on, I’m glad I took advantage of the immediacy of the web rather than relying on six-year-old messages on bathroom walls. Because it seems like things have only gone downhill since the 2002 report. The 2008 study reveals that only 85% of respondents say they always wash their hands after going to the bathroom, down from the previous 92%, and a mere 39% seldom or never wash their hands (emphasis necessary for everyone) after coughing or sneezing. A new feature of the study is an overall grade for the American public, who racks up a not-surprising “C-” for their hand hygiene habits. Once again, we’re excelling at mediocrity.

“Americans should prepare for the onslaught of cold and flu season,” warns Bock ominously. “Cleaning your hands regularly throughout the day can help keep you out of the emergency room.” On the good side, Bock has been promoted to SDA vice president of education since we last heard from her in 2002. I’m just glad to see she still has a job, considering the poor results of the study.

I guess she got credit for some of the additional features now available on the website. New this year are “tips on laundering flood-soiled fabrics,” which I guess is in response to recent natural catastrophes we’ve seen along the Gulf Coast. “As soon as the flood waters have receded, a new priority becomes how to clean up clothes and other fabrics that have been soaked by muddy flood water.” I’m sure that’d be my new priority as I maneuvered around the bloated corpses of cattle as I waded back to the shattered remnants of my life. In case I get some dead cow on my only remaining T-shirt, the SDA has me covered: “to help remove protein stains such as sewage and blood, add an enzyme presoak product to the prewash.” Any chance such a product is sold by your members? I sure hope so.

The SDA has also been busy bringing new demographic groups into the world of the clean and hygienic. They’ve established the “Scrub Club” for kids, which includes the Clean Hands Game and webisodes in which you can meet Gel-Mo, the gelatinous mascot of the S.C. And in an attempt to reach out to teenagers, a rap song was commissioned from the students at Sampson Smith Middle School. I’m sure some of the cred of the song is lost without the accompanying thumping bass-line, but if you can imagine the overwhelming rhythm, I can quote the lyrics:

“Yo stop touching that dirty can

Go to the sink and wash your hands,

If you want to go on a date,

Jump up and wash your hands for goodness sake.

Washing your hands is good for you

But if you don’t you’ll get the flu.”

Thanks to the SDA, sounds like we can look forward to a bright and shiny future.

Tips for on-the-job flu protection

May 4, 2009

Like all responsible citizens of corporate America, my company is taking steps to help its employees avoid infection by the swine flu, also known as H1N1, also known as influenza A, also known as the biggest false alarm since Y2K. We received an email from top management assuring us that all appropriate steps were being considered, and that our health and welfare were the number-one priority.

Whatever action might eventually be forthcoming from the corporate heights, we decided in our local office to take matters into our own hands. There’s a guy in the shipping department who looks vaguely Mexican, and another guy in accounting who’s a pig, so we figured we couldn’t afford to wait. We appropriated some items that were already in the supply cabinet, applied a little of the same ingenuity we use when coming up with tardiness excuses, and prepared ourselves for the pandemic just around the corner.

In the interest of public health, I thought I’d share some of these inventive ideas with others who might be in a similar circumstance. Like all things of any value within our company, it’s a process:

First step, eat breakfast
First step, eat breakfast

It’s well known that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Getting sufficient nutrition will help your body’s natural immunity defense to work at its peak. In the example shown above, we’re eating cereal. What’s most important, though, is to use one of those white disposable Styrofoam bowls widely available in corporate kitchens and canteens.

Next step, finish breakfast. ALL of it.

Next step, finish breakfast. ALL of it.

Being a certified member of the Clean Plate Club is essential before we can proceed. If you had cereal, as shown in this example, be sure to drink all residual milk.

Make 2 small holes with pencil, attach rubberband
Make 2 small holes with pencil, attach rubberband

Be sure to use one of those big rubberbands and to tie it tightly in both holes.

Attach to your face
Attach to your face

This is no time to worry about presenting a fashionable appearance. You need something that can cover all identifiable features except for the eyes, so nobody’s going to be able to tell it’s you anyway.

Smile indicates you feel okay

Smile indicates you feel okay

This feature was drawn with black permanent marker, which is good for the Styrofoam surface which otherwise tends to absorb moisture.

Frown indicates feeling a little swine-y
Frown indicates feeling a little swine-y

The problem with permanent marker, however, is that the fumes tend to permeate through the mask pretty easily. You’ll find that you quickly get a headache caused by inhaling these vapors, which may obscure genuine swine flu symptoms. Note how this model’s eyes are starting to look a little spooky.

Household cleaner can serve as antiseptic
Household cleaner can serve as antiseptic

To ensure any flu germs that do make it through the mask are quickly dispatched, you can coat the inside of the bowl with any number of readily available cleaning products, including Windex, Raid and spray deodorants.

Late Breaking News: Corporate headquarters is on the move, and we now have an acronym securely in place — the Pandemic Preparedness Plan (PPP). I feel better already, though I never felt that bad to begin with.

OINK, I tell you. OINK!!

April 30, 2009

ATLANTA, Georgia (April 30) – A spokesperson for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported yesterday that THERE’S A GUY IN SIERRA LEONE WHO’S BEEN DIAGNOSED WITH GUINEA WORM DISEASE, A COUPLE OF KIDS IN MALI WHO HAVE RIVER BLINDNESS AND A WOMAN IN BANGLADESH WHO IS SHOWING SYMPTOMS OF BURULI ULCLER!!!

Dr. Harold Densmore, chief epidemiologist with the U.S. Health Service, told a packed room of reporters that early information is sketchy, but there seemed to be enough evidence to dictate an increased level of concern from the medical community.

“I know these places are half a world away. Still, preparation is vital,” Densmore said. “Who knows when they might climb onto a plane, fly into your town, come to your home and borrow your hankie?”

Densmore also noted that several other rare tropical or infectious diseases seem to be making a comeback in regions where they were thought to be all but eliminated.

I JUST SAW A FIELD REPORT ABOUT SOMEBODY WHO HAD THE PLAGUE OF JUSTINIAN!” Densmore reported. “AND WE’RE SEEING INCREASED INCIDENTS OF HYPOVOLEMIC SHOCK, CLOSTRIDIAL COLITIS AND SNAIL FEVER!!”

In the wake of the recent outbreak of swine flu now sweeping through a couple of places, CDC officials wanted to be as forthright with the information they have as possible. Some observers had criticized their initial reaction to the new strain of influenza, saying they earlier had failed to show the proper level of urgency by talking only in caps and lower case.

“I WANT TO STRESS AGAIN THAT WE TAKE THIS VERY SERIOUSLY,” Densmore said. “PUBLIC HEALTH IS OUR BUSINESS AND WE NEED TO BE IN THE FOREFRONT FOR EVERY CASE OF MONKEY POX, EBOLA AND AFRICAN SLEEPING SICKNESS!”

The flu outbreak, which first became widely reported over the weekend, appears to have begun in rural Mexico at a site near a hog production farm. The ailment later spread to Mexico City, where several people reported feeling a little achy, and has since gone global with hundreds of reports of sniffles, tickly throats and a slight queasiness.

Densmore said he and his colleagues were working round-the-clock doing research on Wikipedia, searching for infectious and tropical diseases that could prove to be alarming. Especially promising and scary-sounding were Kallman syndrome with spastic paraplegia, Klumpke paralysis, ZAP0 deficiency, Jansky-Bielschowsky disease and Yaws.

“YAWS WOULD BE HORRIBLE,” Densmore concluded. “YOU START WITH A ‘MOTHER YAW’ WHICH ENLARGES AND BECOMES WARTY. THEN NEARBY ‘DAUGHTER YAWS’ APPEAR. THEN COMES ‘CRAB YAWS’ WITH DESQUAMATION. I DON’T LIKE THE SOUND OF THAT AT ALL.”