SMART LIVING: Last summer, the World Health Organization declared a pandemic for the H1N1 virus (initially called the “swine flu” by the media). That fall, there was a vaccine shortage. What has the medical community learned from last year’s crisis?
RITA ALLEN: Well, I think everybody who did not care about influenza before knows something about it now. We have learned much about stockpiling medical supplies, vaccine manufacturing and distribution, and the importance of communication with visitors and staff.
MARY ALICE SMILEY: Many physician offices turned to us for advice since we had ready access to information. We were able to make suggestions on how to control disease brought into their offices, such as having people report any flu-like illness as they sign in, and providing masks, tissues, and hand gel. Our OB/GYN offices were particularly interested in protecting their pregnant patients. All of our recommendations were based on those from the CDC, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
RITA ALLEN: We have learned that we can count on the CDC. With the various media reports coming in from different sources, we were able to turn to them for accurate updates, guidelines and recommendations. We are blessed to live in a country that provides us with these outstanding resources.
MARY ALICE SMILEY: I think everyone learned how quickly a pandemic can envelop the world because we are such mobile people.
Mary Alice Smiley, RN,CIC and Rita Allen, RN, CIC, Infection Prevention and Control Practitioners, St. Joseph’s/Candler
SL: What lessons have the public learned from last year’s pandemic? What can they do about the flu this year?
RA: While many people were hoping and waiting for the H1N1 vaccine to arrive, we all learned about other things that can help protect us from the flu, such as hand washing, coughing into your elbow, and staying home when you’re sick to avoid infecting others. With many people taking flu vaccine for the first time in their lives and achieving great protection, hopefully some myths about flu vaccine have been proved false.
MAS: It should be clear to the public that influenza is a dangerous disease and it doesn't just kill elderly people. We hope that more people are committed to getting their flu shot annually and making sure their entire family is protected. The public was not always happy with the visitor restrictions we enacted at the hospital last year. But hopefully they understand that we must first protect our patients and ensure that our staff remains healthy so that they can care for them.