Thursday, August 26, 2010

One Year After the Flu: Keep Washing Your Hands

It was one year ago today that a flu pandemic was hitting its peak in the United States, the country most affected, and a chorus of experts was pleading with people to wash their hands regularly.

And not just hands, but faces, clothes, and most of all, hand-contact surfaces such as door knobs and hand rails.

When the H1N1 virus first appeared, I had predicted that modern hygiene practices would make a flu pandemic impossible. And while public health experts did ultimately classify H1N1 flu as a pandemic, it was not anything like the pandemic the experts were anticipating. The virus popped up in only a small fraction of communities.

It may not be possible for a classic flu pandemic to develop when most people are washing their hands regularly. Yet no one knows where or when the next flu virus will appear. Probably the majority of new flu viruses never become known to scientists because they are washed away before they infect significant numbers of people.

Even though there isn’t any global flu warning this year, please continue to wash your hands. Wash hand-contact surfaces at least as often as you clean tables and floors. From everything we know, this kind of action may be what it will take to stop the next flu epidemic.