UTHealth safety expert offers flu facts and prevention tips

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HOUSTON – (April 27, 2009) – For most of us, the flu is a miserable experience that keeps us out of work or school for a few days. But, as the recent swine flu fatalities in Mexico have reminded us, influenza can be deadly.

“Older people, young children and people with certain health conditions including asthma, diabetes or heart disease, are at high risk for serious flu complications,” says Robert Emery, DrPH, vice president of safety, health, environment and risk management at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth).

According to Emery, who is also an assistant professor a The University of Texas School of Public Health, a part of UTHealth, here are facts and figures you should know:

  • Every year in the United States, on average, 5 to 20 percent of the population gets the flu. More than 200,000 people are hospitalized from flu-related complications and about 36,000 people die from flu-related causes (source: http://www.cdc.gov/flu/keyfacts.htm).
  • Symptoms of flu include fever (usually high), headache, extreme tiredness, dry cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose and muscle aches. Stomach symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea, also can occur but are more common in children than adults.
  • Complications of flu can include bacterial pneumonia, ear infections, sinus infections, dehydration and worsening of chronic medical conditions, such as congestive heart failure, asthma, or diabetes.
  • Flu viruses are thought to spread mainly from person to person through coughing or sneezing of people with influenza. Sometimes people may become infected by touching something with flu viruses on it and then touching their mouth or nose.
  • Persons with the flu may be able to infect others beginning one day before symptoms develop and up to five days after becoming sick. That means that a person may be able to pass on the flu to someone else before they, or you, know they are sick.
  • Emery says measures for preventing the spread of infection lie in educating people in basic, but very powerful, infection control measures:
  • Keep your hands away from your face and mouth.
  • Cover your mouth with a tissue when coughing or sneezing and immediately throw the tissue away.
  • Wash your hands thoroughly and regularly with soap or alcohol based sanitizer.
  • Be aware of the symptoms of flu should they arise.

Emery’s plan for UTHealth, which other workplaces can consider, includes:

  • Monitoring the situation and routinely providing updates to executive leadership and the university community.
  • Making sure the university’s actions are in lock step with notifications and decisions made at international (World Health Organization), national (U.S. Centers for Disease Control), state and local levels.
  • Reminding the entire community about the power of simple, basic infection control measures including cough control, hand washing and staying home if symptomatic.
  • Contacting those work areas where a significant exposure potential exists, such as the emergency department health care providers, to ensure basic infection control measures are in place, including respiratory protection with fit tested masks.
  • Re-assessing stocks of supplies including protective equipment and hand cleaners and placing orders as necessary.
  • Having individual work units to consider the “what if” scenario: What if decisions are made that impact the health science center? How will these impact our ability to continue operations?
  • Considering key questions such as: Do you have the current phone numbers for your supervisor, co-workers and any subordinates? What tasks are absolutely essential and what ones might be delayed? Who within the unit has the capability to telecommute if this became necessary?

To schedule an interview with Emery or for more information, please call UTHealth’s Media Hotline at 713-500-3030.

Meredith Raine
Media Hotline: 713-500-3030