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Fear of catching flu changes habits

Fear of catching flu changes habits

Posted: Wednesday, December 23, 2009 8:01 pm
By: AP

By LINDSAY MELVIN
The Commercial Appeal
MEMPHIS (AP) — From fist-bump greetings to the increasingly common sight of hand sanitizers, people are taking precautions to avoid their neighbors’ germs.
The H1N1 flu pandemic has changed social norms for Memphians and people across the nation, as traditions like hearty handshakes and children reciting their wish lists on Santa’s lap come under suspicion.
With swine flu arriving on the heels of avian flu, better known as bird flu, Dr. Mack Land says we were primed to fear the next pandemic.
And even though H1N1 has so far proven not as deadly, it has created general unease, said the professor of medicine in the division of infectious disease at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center.
When the Dalai Lama visited Memphis in September, instead of a warm handshake from then-Mayor Pro Tem Myron Lowery, he got a fist bump.
A flu breakout in the mayor’s office, Lowery later said, encouraged him to incorporate the minimal-contact greeting.
It’s just one of the many ways people are going out of their way to sidestep infection.
At Hope Presbyterian Church, for the first time during a Christmas Eve service, parishioners at the sprawling Cordova facility won’t have to line up to take Holy Communion from a single chalice.
Instead, their wafer and wine-colored grape juice, representing the body and blood of Christ, will be handed out in individually sealed packets.
The more sanitary Eucharist was incorporated earlier this year after national reports of swine flu deaths started circulating.
“We were afraid people might not participate,” said church project manager Kathy Flake.
The church has also set up hand sanitizers at its entrances and puts out extra sanitizers when food is served.
Nudging along germophobic behavior and setting this outbreak apart from those of the past, Land says, are advances in technology, including instant reports of outbreaks around the world.
“It’s been on the news four times a day since August,” he said.
Malls are taking extra precautions as holiday shopping is in full swing, says Lexi Harris, area director of marketing for Wolfchase Galleria.
The Cordova mall installed hand sanitizers about a month ago at its entrances and children’s play areas.
“Customers are pleased that we’re doing it,” she said.
And even mall Santas aren’t taking any chances this season.
The Colorado-based Noerr Programs Corp. supplies 200 Santas throughout the country, including to Wolfchase and Oak Court Mall in East Memphis.
Santas will be periodically changing their snow-white gloves, and their North Pole winterlands will be surrounded by hand sanitizers.
“We foresaw this would be an issue,” said Noerr spokeswoman Ruth Rosenquist.
The company laid out health precautions back in July, including more frequent Santa suit cleanings.
“We’re just reacting to the times. We’re trying to keep everyone safe and healthy, including Santa,” Rosenquist said.
For some, avoiding hand contact and using liquid sanitizers isn’t enough — they’re donning face masks to dodge contaminated air as well.
Wearing a surgical face mask to protect against germs is “over the top,” says Land, but hand-washing and sanitizing efforts are “just good common sense.”
More than anything, he says, cleaning hands and using sanitizers is the best protection against picking up contaminated particles.
“We’re forming a habit,” he said. “This is a good thing.”
Published in The Messenger 12.23.09

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