H1N1 INFLUENZA VIRUS
DATE: September 28, 2009
There is presently much speculation as to the impact that the H1N1 virus will have on Canadians over the next few months. Organizations have been urged to stress to their members steps that should be taken to prevent the spread of the virus, and to have plans in place to alleviate any hardships that may come of the spread of H1N1.
Due diligence is commonly addressed in the health and safety legislation under the "general duty clause" which places a duty on employers to take all reasonable precautions to prevent injuries or accidents in the workplace. The general duty clause also applies to all situations that are not addressed elsewhere in the occupational health and safety legislation.
Although the CRFC does not have sample pandemic guidance documents that are specific to a "recreational facility setting", communities should work with their respective municipal/regional government, local or regional public health departments and follow the direction of Canadian Government agencies such as Health Canada and the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS).
What is Influenza A? The swine influenza (H1N1) is a respiratory disease caused by type A influenza that affects pigs but does not normally infect humans. However, sporadic human infections with Influenza A have occurred, most commonly with persons in direct exposure to pigs. With this recent outbreak, it appears human-to-human spread is occurring. Just like other types of influenzas the virus can spread through liquid droplets that get airborne from coughing or sneezing. You can also contract it by touching something with the live virus on it and then touching your mouth, eyes, or nose. With most influenza strains, the virus can live for up to 8 hours on most surfaces.
What does a Level 5 alert from the World Health Organization really mean? On April 29, 2009 the W.H.O. raised their alert from a 4 to a 5 indicating that the virus is known to have mutated from animal to human and it believes a global outbreak of the disease or pandemic is imminent. W.H.O. says the phase 5 alert means there is sustained human-to-human spread in at least two countries. It also signals that efforts to produce a vaccine will be ramped up.
What is a pandemic? A pandemic flu is not your average flu – it’s an outbreak of a highly infectious illness on a large scale that is spread person to person. Historically there have been several outbreaks of pandemic flu during each century. During the last century, three flu pandemics occurred, the largest one in 1918. In the current case of Influenza A, more investigation and information is needed to determine how easily the virus spreads and whether it will become a full-blown pandemic.
What are the symptoms? Influenza A symptoms are similar to those of regular human seasonal influenza. They include:
Does your seasonal flu vaccination protect you? This year’s annual influenza immunization, or flu shot, protects against the human strain of H1N1 influenza. The human swine influenza H1N1 strain is different than the human strain. It is unlikely that the seasonal flu shot will provide protection against human swine influenza.
What should I do if I have flu symptoms? Stay home and avoid public places. Before going to see a doctor or medical clinic, call first and let them know what your symptoms are and ask what they recommend you do.
How long can influenza virus remain viable on objects (such as books and doorknobs)?
Studies have shown that influenza virus can survive on environmental surfaces and can infect a person for 2 to 8 hours after being deposited on the surface.
What kills influenza virus?
Influenza virus is destroyed by heat (167-212°F [75-100°C]). In addition, several chemical germicides, including chlorine, hydrogen peroxide, detergents (soap), iodophors (iodine based antiseptics), and alcohols are effective against human influenza viruses if used in proper concentration for a sufficient length of time. For example, wipes or gels with alcohol in them can be used to clean hands. The gels should be rubbed into hands until they are dry.
What if soap and water are not available and alcohol-based products are not allowed in my facility?
Scientific evidence is not as extensive as that found on hand washing and alcohol based sanitizers, other hand sanitizers that do not contain alcohol may be useful for killing flu germs on hands.
What surfaces are most likely to be sources of contamination?
Germs can be spread when a person touches something that is contaminated with germs and then touches his or her eyes, nose, or mouth. Droplets from a cough or sneeze of an infected person move through the air. Germs can be spread when a person touches respiratory droplets from another person on a surface like a desk, for example, and then touches their own eyes, mouth or nose before washing their hands.
How should waste disposal be handled to prevent the spread of influenza virus?
To prevent the spread of influenza virus, it is recommended that tissues and other disposable items used by an infected person be thrown in the trash. Additionally, persons should wash their hands with soap and water after touching used tissues and similar waste.
Is there a risk from drinking water?
Tap water that has been treated by conventional disinfection processes does not likely pose a risk for transmission of influenza viruses. Current drinking water treatment regulations provide a high degree of protection from viruses. No research has been completed on the susceptibility of 2009 H1N1 flu virus to conventional drinking water treatment processes. However, recent studies have demonstrated that free chlorine levels typically used in drinking water treatment are adequate to inactivate highly pathogenic H5N1 avian influenza. It is likely that other influenza viruses such as 2009 H1N1 would also be similarly inactivated by chlorination. To date, there have been no documented human cases of influenza caused by exposure to influenza-contaminated drinking water.
Can 2009 H1N1 flu virus be spread through water in swimming pools, spas, water parks, interactive fountains, and other treated recreational water venues?
Influenza viruses infect the human upper respiratory tract. There has never been a documented case of influenza virus infection associated with water exposure. Recreational water that has been treated at CDC recommended disinfectant levels does not likely pose a risk for transmission of influenza viruses. No research has been completed on the susceptibility of 2009 H1N1 influenza virus to chlorine and other disinfectants used in swimming pools, spas, water parks, interactive fountains, and other treated recreational venues. However, recent studies have demonstrated that free chlorine levels recommended by CDC (1–3 parts per million [ppm or mg/L] for pools and 2–5 ppm for spas) are adequate to disinfect avian influenza A (H5N1) virus. It is likely that other influenza viruses such as 2009 H1N1 virus would also be similarly disinfected by chlorine.
Can 2009 H1N1 influenza virus be spread at recreational water venues outside of the water?
Yes, recreational water venues are no different than any other group setting. The spread of this 2009 H1N1 flu is thought to be happening in the same way that seasonal flu spreads. Flu viruses are 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.
Note: Much of the information in this document is based on studies and past experience with seasonal (human) influenza. CDC believes the information applies to 2009 H1N1 (swine) viruses as well, but studies on this virus are ongoing to learn more about its characteristics. This document will be updated as new information becomes available.
PROTECTING YOURSELF AND OTHERS FROM THE H1N1 FLU VIRUS
Here are six simple, common sense precautions that can help safeguard everyone’s health:
1. Stay home when you’re sick or have influenza symptoms. Get plenty of rest and check with a health care provider as needed.
2. Avoid close contact with people who are sick. If you are sick, keep your distance from others to protect them from getting sick.
3. Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing and throw the tissue away immediately. It may prevent those around you from getting sick.
4. Wash your hands. Washing your hands often will help protect you from getting sick. When soap and water are not available, use alcohol-based disposable hand wipes or gel sanitizers.
5. Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. You can become ill by touching a surface contaminated with germs and then touching your eyes, nose or mouth.
6. Practice other good health habits. Get plenty of sleep, be physically active, manage stress, drink plenty of fluids, eat nutritious foods, and avoid smoking, which may increase the risk of serious consequences if you do contract the flu.
For the latest facts on the H1N1 flu virus, visit:
Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS)
Centers for Disease Control (CDC)