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Homeland Security

5 Simple Measures to Help Protect from Swine Flu

By Lisa Schlein
04 September 2009

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies is launching a global information campaign to help communities deal with the Swine Flu virus. The Red Cross says its main focus will be on the developing countries, which do not have the same level of medical and monitoring facilities as the developed countries.

The Red Cross says people in developing countries are most vulnerable to the H1N1 Swine Flu virus. But, they also are most likely not to have the information they need that could save their lives.

So, while the campaign is global, the Red Cross says a priority is to reach people in the most remote corners of the world within the next few weeks with its life-saving messages.

Senior Red Cross Officer for Health in Emergencies, Tammam Aloudat, says countries in the Northern hemisphere have gone through the first wave of the Swine flu pandemic and now have to prepare for a second wave of the virus.

He says no one knows whether the second wave will be more severe than the first or will remain moderate.

"It does not really matter because in the best case scenario we have today, we will still have a moderate virus that … is projected to cause several million deaths extra deaths than the usual influenza annual mortality, which means that even in the best-case scenario, we do have an emergency on our hand," said Aloudat. "An emergency of a scale different to what we have seen before in the modern era."

Pandemic experts explain a second wave does not necessarily entail any change in the composition of the virus. They say the virus can stay exactly the same. But, it usually finds more susceptible populations to infect among the people who did not get the disease in the first wave. So, they lack the immunity to fight off the disease.

Head of the International Red Cross Federation's Influenza team, Robert Kaufman, says the impact of a novel virus on a community without immunity is not just about the number of illnesses and deaths. It is also about its ability to disrupt services.

"For example, we saw in the southern Hemisphere-in Chile, Argentina, certain parts of Bolivia where health facilities were overwhelmed. Operations for people were postponed because facilities and medical practitioners were preoccupied and needed to serve influenza like diseases or flu in particular," he said.

Pharmaceutical companies are developing vaccines against H1N1. They are expected to be available in the coming weeks. But, there will not be enough vaccine for everyone and there are fears that the developing countries will be short-changed.

While vaccines are important, Red Cross officials say they are not the only way for people to stay safe. They say those who follow five practices will greatly reduce the risk of becoming infected.

The message the Red Cross campaign is trying to get out is simple - wash your hands, cover your mouth, keep your distance, separate your sick and dispose of your waste properly.

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