Sunday, November 30, 2008

Bird flu still a threat

Three years ago, bird flu - the H1N5 avian influenza virus which has infected 387 people around the world to date - made people very aware of the risk of a pandemic.

Now, that awareness had almost disappeared but the threat it posed was still present, Southland District Health Board emergency planner Sandra Miller said.

It was "only a matter of time" before the world - including Wakatipu - was struck by some form of influenza pandemic.

"The World Health Organisation statistics show there is generally a pandemic every 30 years," Ms Miller said.

"It has now been 37 years since the last one. We want to keep the fact of . . . pandemic influenza in people's minds."

To do that, the SDHB and Southland Civil Defence Emergency Management Group hired a roadshow from Civil Defence Canterbury to raise awareness and give out potentially lifesaving information.

The displays included interactive games showing what people needed to keep handy in case a pandemic forced them to stay at home.

There was also information on the benefits of correct hand washing and keeping a distance from people who were not well.

"The message is for people to stay away and not spread it."

The SDHB had organised alternative treatment sites which would be used to test for and treat people in the event of an outbreak of avian flu.

The Queenstown assessment centre would be in the Events Centre to keep infected people away from doctors' rooms and hospital sites where they would pose too much of a risk.

Although the roadshow was designed with avian flu in mind, Ms Miller said the principles applied equally to keeping healthy when there were outbreaks of seasonal influenza.

"A significant number of people die from seasonal influenza each year," she said.

By keeping at least 2m from infected people and washing and drying hands thoroughly, people would minimise their risk of contracting it.

One of the roadshow's more popular exhibits - a hand under ultraviolet light - illustrated the places often missed during hand washing.

Ms Miller said sanitising hand washes and wipes were not needed all the time but were useful.

There had been a lot of support for the roadshow in the month it toured Southland, she said.

Protect yourself
Five simple steps to protect yourself and your family. -

• Cover coughs and sneezes - use tissues and dispose of them properly. Then wash your hands.

• Have healthy hands - wash them often and well.

• Isolate yourself - maintain personal space of 1m-2m to minimise exposure to the influenza virus. Stay home if you are ill.

• Reduce germs in the home and workplace - regularly clean common surfaces such as door knobs, computer keyboards, light switches and toys.

• Prepare yourself and your family - create an emergency plan and kit.

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