How Public Contact Employees Can Protect Themselves From Bird Flu

By: Richard Stooker

The best way to protect yourself from bird flu during a pandemic is to avoid all contact with other people.

However, this is impossible for people who must continue to report to a place of employment. Work will be especially dangerous if your job is to meet and deal with the public.

However, most people will want to continue to bring in a paycheck, so we'll be torn between the desire to ensure our safety by remaining home and the need to bring in money to pay the bills and buy whatever food may be available.

First of all, a lot of business that is currently done in person could be handled over the telephone. Employers should encourage customers to use the telephone or online services as much as possible. This will also protect the customer from possible exposure to bird flu.

But whether you are a cashier at a fast food restaurant, a cable TV installer or a welfare caseworker with clients who can't keep their telephone service on, you will still have to deal with some people face to face.

If allowed, wear a Nanomask at all times. Although many employers may object in the beginning of a bird flu pandemic, by the time millions are dying they should recognize that it should actually reassure customers that you are looking after their safety as well as your own. After all, after a customer with bird flu infects you, you could pass it on to the next customer in line.

If customers must do any writing or signing, leave pens out in their area. Do not give them yours. Do not touch the pens they have touched. If you must, wash your hands afterward.

Unfortunately, you may have to touch paperwork or, of course, their money. Cash money actually carries a lot of germs even now. We just rarely think about the hygiene implications of handling money given to us by other people. So if possible, employers should encourage customers to pay by credit or debit card. Employees don't need to handle the physical cards, just get the numbers and other necessary information from the customer.

Wear rubber or plastic gloves if you have to handle papers or cash handed to you by customers.

If possible, put a barrier of transparent plexiglass between you and the other person. This will help protect your from their germs if they cough or sneeze.

Fast food restaurants should encourage customers to use the drive-through facilities and discourage eating inside.

Keep a bottle of a germicidal hand lotion by your side and put some on your hands between each customer.

Give everyone coming into your business access to a bottle of germicidal hand lotion and encourage them to use it on their hands before touching anything.

Again, while many such measures would be perceived as offensive to customers during normal periods, a bird flu pandemic is not a normal period and they should understand that when everyone is in great danger from infection, every measure you take to protect yourself, also helps protect them as well.

Of course, during a bird flu pandemic the riskiest public contact job will be providing medical care to bird flu patients.

I can't give advice on that score, except to say please follow all rules and regulations to reduce your exposure to bird flu and to reduce the chances of you infecting other patients. And remember that barrier nursing and diligent hygienic procedures protect you as well as your patients.

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c 2006 by Richard Stooker Richard Stooker is the author of How to Protect Yourself and Your Family From Bird Flu and Bird Flu Blog

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