Coming to a School Near You: Swine Flu

This morning I was reading a column in the Sunday Herald by radio talkshow host Kerre Woodham saying that SwineFlu is a load of hogwash. Half an hour ago I was at the checkout at my local Foodtown and overheard a girl saying that she was told not to go to school next week at Westlake College (On Auckland’s North Shore) as there had been a confirmed case of SwineFlu at the school.  She said that initially only year 12 girls were told to stay away, but that she since been told that the whole school is to be closed for a week. The fact that she was working at a checkout at the supermarket suggests that as well as spreading the news, she could also of course be spreading the virus.

I have said all along that, the people who are saying that because bird flu turned out to be a non event, this one will too, are going to get a rude awakening. This thing is spreading quickly, with a rise of 65% in the last 24 hours to 71 confirmed cases, while many more are expected to be confirmed in coming days as the NZ Police College has closed for a week and 41 tourists in the South Island town of Hokitika have also been confirmed.

One question being asked is whether employers should pay their staff if the company closes its doors during a quarantine. The answer appears to be no, other than normal holiday pay conditions. If it turns out to be as serious as is suggested, this could be a major concern. The biggest concern though is people who are sick but go to work anyway, because they can’t financially afford to miss work.

Perhaps the answer is obvious, but what should you do if one of your family members with whom  you live is ill and could have Swine Flu?Does the whole family have to stay home, or do they only stay home if the person is confirmed to have the virus, which takes 72 hours after the swab.

It’s Official Swine Flu is a Pandemic

In the last hour or so, WHO has announced that we now have a Pandemic, the first in 41 years as infections have climbed over 30,000 people. As I said in my previous blog, many people still have their heads in the sand, thinking it won’t happen to them, but pretty much everyone I know is aware of people close to them who either have N1H1, or have been asked to quarantine themselves just in case.

WHO Chief Margaret Chan made the announcement a short while ago saying that “Swine Flu is unstoppable.” She also went on to say that it has progressed so far that it is no longer possible to follow the track of the virus and htat the statistics only reflect the data from countries who have good tracking measures in place.

This takes me back to my prvious blog where I asked if you were prepared. It is now quite likely that you may have to be quarantined and if this is the case, your whole family may find itself in this situation. I meet and shake hands with a lot of people every day, my wife works in a retirement village and my daughter is a school teacher. Between us, the chances of getting exposed become much higher.

Just to put this into perspective, the last time WHO declared a pandemic, the Hong Kong Flu, 41 years ago, around 1 million people died.

Now I’m not trying to say the sky is falling, but I am saying you need to consider what it means to be prepared. If you have a little more food in the cupboards  and don’t need it, cool, have a non swine flu party when its all over. Make sure you wash your hands regularly after contact with other people, you can buy handy little bottles of hand cleaner that doesn’t require water. 

A final reminder for you, who are thinking, I’m young and healthy, it’s the elderly people who get killed with these viruses. Think again, the majority of deaths with Swine Flu have been aged 30-50 years old.

New Powers for Medical Health Officers over Swine Flu

I should have seen this one coming from a mile away. While a lot of people still have their heads in the sand, the New Zealand Government have made Swine Flu a notifiable disease. In itself, that just makes sense, but in fact according to a NZ Herald story this morning, this means that they have authority to demand that people isolate themselves at home, or face fines or mandatory isolation in hospital or worse. 

There are many things to start thinking now, even if you still think it won’t happen to you. If you are isolated at home, do you have everything you need for at least a week? Will this mean that your family that lives with you or your flatmates will also have to stay home too? After all they will be at a higher risk of also getting infected. So if your whole house is quarantined, how do you get your basic supplies like bread and milk?

If pundits are right and it effects up to 60% of the population, or even only 10% are isolated, what happens to business? Grocery stores and other retailers who are in spittle distance of their customers will be at high risk because they are dealing with large volumes of people all day.

The schools represent a high risk, they have always helped spread illnesses, if one child has the measles, flu or any other contagious disease, it is a given that several others will also get it.

If people disobey the isolation requirements, then there are even greater risks, because this group will very likely carry the virus, so I have no problem with the mandate. However, the risk of people not obeying the rules is also high. In today’s economy, people don’t want to risk losing their jobs and many will continue to work because they need the money. In my office for example, staff get 5 days of sick leave a year, which is pretty easy to bite into if you have a flu or cold. There are people who will therefore have no sick leave, or not enough available and don’t want to use their holidays, but can’t afford to be sick without leave, so for as long as they can, they will continue to work.

Schools have been given detailed instructions on what to do in the case of an outbreak, including hygiene instructions, but in my opinion, most businesses are thinking that Bird Flu went nowhere and Swine Flu will do the same, so they aren’t taking precautions and they don’t have contingency plans should a large group of staff fall ill. The air conditioning systems will do a good job of spreading the virus, and some businesses may have to cease trading for several weeks, because while the illness might be gone in 7 days or so, people won’t be considerate enough to all catch the Swine Flu at the same time. 

Of course they could go to a Swine Flu Party. What sort of idiots would do something like that? Well it appears they are, using the same rationale that moms use when their friends children have chicken pox, “Let’s get it over with now”. The problem with Swine Flu is that unlike traditional flu, the virus has no respect for age or health and is capable of killing people of all ages and of course the domino effect would hasten the spread of this nasty illness. 

The new powers aren’t just a NZ initiative however, the same is occuring around the world, in Australia, Mexico of course and most other countries are now drafting legislation that will help them try to fight this problem.

So, are you ready? Do you still think it won’t happen to you, your friends or family, or perhaps your work mates? How prepared are you?