On June 11, WHO officially declared that the global incidence of H1N1 had met the criteria for official classification as a ‘pandemic’, the first such designation in 41 years. Our collective knowledge of this agent’s epidemiology is rapidly evolving as would be expected with any novel pathogen. But despite the inability to provide many definitive answers about H1N1, several infection control concepts transcend the particulars of an individual outbreak. A useful mnemonic is the 5 C’s:
- Communicate. Keep informed of the current outbreak status. Health experts at the University continue to monitor the flu situation closely. For current information, especially prevention tips and resources, visit the Columbia University Preparedness website: http://www.columbia.edu/cu/studentservices/preparedness
- (stay) Calm. Obtaining accurate information (see bullet above) will allow you to take the steps necessary to reduce your chances of becoming ill.
- Clean shared equipment such as keyboards and telephones; door knobs are also a high priority item as a significant percentage of disease transmission is initiated from the hands of infected individuals. The most important thing to clean is your hands, frequently. In the absence of soap and running water, alcohol based hand sanitizers are effective.
- Cover your coughs or sneezes. In the absence of a tissue, cough or sneeze into your arm or elbow.
- Contain. If you are sick from a cold or influenza-like illness (ILI), stay home and contact as few people as possible. Conversely, if you are caring for an ill family member or friend, be sure to protect yourself through frequent hand washing and housekeeping. See http://www.cdc.gov/h1n1flu/guidance_homecare.htm for detailed CDC guidance for providers of home care. Children should remain at home while they are infectious.