It takes a challenging virus like the H1N1 to make health authorities worldwide scupper for renewed definitions and amended health protocols.
Take the phrase social distancing – used in public health practice to mean encouraging people to keep their physical distance from each other during disease outbreaks in order to slow the spread of infection. This term should not to be confused with that well-worn phrase in sociology, social distance. Social distancing has recently come into vogue as an effective weapon to curb the rapid spread of swine flu.
Examples of social distancing include cancellation of public events like sports,plays and concerts and closure of schools. These are touted to be “feasible community containment measures”, according to WHO, in a pandemic. All of these measures have significant impact on the community and workforce, however, and careful consideration would be focused on their potential effectiveness.
When the outbreak was first reported, many local authorities were quick to close an entire school for a week upon the detection of a student with the H1N1 virus.The contacts and immediate family members were placed in quarantine for a similar period.
Now that most countries have moved from the containment phase to the mitigation phase (in short, public health officials raising their hands up to concede that the H1N1 virus cannot be fenced in anymore), local health authorities have stopped counting the number of cases and concentrating their resources to treating those badly afflicted with the disease.
Why, the US Centre for Disease Control (CDC) is now recommending that schools should not be closed unless the majority of students were having another medical condition which would make them extra-vulnerable. Even more significant, those who are sick can return to school or work if they were fever-free for more than 24 hours, instead of the previous advice of 7 days.
Why the change of heart? Because the virus does not typically cause life-threatening illness, says the CDC. Less than 3% of those who get H1N1 die. Instead, schools should weigh the “definite harm” of lost learning, lost wages if a parent has to stay home to care for the child, or the risks of having an unsupervised child at home
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