Wash, Cover up, but please – also get the “flu shot”

AUTHOR: Matthew Harper

The Sydney Morning Herald recently ran a story quoting from Dr Chris Del Mar, Professor of Public Health at Bond University who was speaking about influenza spread at the ‘GPs Down Under’ Conference on the Gold Coast.  The piece emphasises the importance of social distancing and hygiene while downplaying the role of influenza vaccination in the fight against seasonal flu.

As one of the truly paranoid, I am both heartened and dismayed at this story.  Heartened that the issue of personal action is emphasised, dismayed that the message of multi-vector prevention may have been damaged.  In so much of our work, we help companies identify a range of protective strategies against likely events, and from my perspective, seasonal influenza is almost as likely as it comes.

Growing up, my mother and my grandmother were demons for hand washing.  I never asked, but I am sure it stemmed from their germ laden workplaces where illness wasn’t an option.  My mother taught in a high school, while my grandmother was one of the ladies who demonstrated new ways of cooking for the then Sutherland County Council.  I grew up fanatical about washing my hands at all the traditional times and places.

Fast forward to 2016 and I found myself on the 8th floor of the Royal Darwin Hospital on my second day working with the National Critical Care and Trauma Response Centre.  We were holding a morning tea to celebrate birthdays and the table was laden with treats of all varieties.  Minutes into the start, a fat lazy blowfly landed on a tray of magnificent sausage rolls.  Quickly and without fuss, the entire tray was whisked from the table and disposed of, the fly swatted and its body disposed of in an antiseptic wipe. 

My non-hospital, southern state mind was aghast – why not just throw out the piece the fly landed on?

My answer came from an amazing researcher Dr Matthew Brearley.  As one of the only other non-clinical people in the room, he was able to explain their actions in words I understood:

Where are we?
How did the fly get here?
Well, it probably came through either emergency or reception, it would have then slowly made its way through corridors, wards, on people wherever.  It’s probably been through the infectious diseases ward, children’s ward and wherever else.
Do you really want to eat that now?”

It was at that time I really started washing my hands to the standard that the team did.  I started using the pump pack antiseptic after passing through every door, never shared a phone, and never shared a pen.  I certainly never touched a door handle with bare hands without washing and I started researching disease spread from hand driers.  I lined up to receive all my shots, took my medications and probably had my healthiest year ever.

We don’t have the figures for the effective nature of the current vaccination for seasonal influenza, but denigrating its performance isn’t a logical solution.  Influenza protection, like so much else in life and business is about building prevention layers, and having a good plan for dealing with the unexpected.


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The beauty and terror of Australian weather

“I love a sunburnt country, 
A land of sweeping plains, 
Of ragged mountain ranges, 
Of droughts and flooding rains. 
I love her far horizons, 
I love her jewel-sea, 

Her beauty and her terror
The wide brown land for me!”

From My Country by Dorothea Mackellar

Summer weather risks are widespread across our great southern continent. Bushfires, drought, severe storms and tropical cyclones can disrupt communities and businesses in regional, rural and remote Australia. Cities are also vulnerable to risks including too much water, too little water, extreme heat, severe storms, bushfire on the urban fringe and infrastructure failures such as power, water, gas and telecommunications.

Bushfires often receive the lion’s share of media coverage, which is understandable as they can arise quickly and sometimes involve large loss of life. And the seemingly inbuilt fascination humans have with fire keeps this threat front of mind.

However, floods, severe storms, hailstorms, earthquakes and cyclones are, in many ways, more destructive than bushfires each summer. Recent data suggests most insured building losses are spread across the range of severe weather categories. While in terms of fatalities, extreme heat is responsible for 55% of natural hazard deaths, followed by tropical cyclone (15.6), flood (14.8%), bush/grassfire (10.5%), landslide and lightning (1% each) with other storm types plus earthquake totalling just over 2%. Uninsured (or uninsurable) losses are largely due to flooding and are significantly higher than insured losses. 

All this means that natural hazards mitigation must cover a grouping of those events most likely in your location. Research, analysis and advice is vital to determine and rank which hazards your family or business should be focused on.

For regular weather updates, the Bureau of Meteorology will keep you across relevant information for your area. In a time of crisis you can keep on top of important information at your local ABC radio station, Twitter (@ABCemergency), ABC emergency website and apps such as EmergencyAUS and Fires Near Me.  In addition, each state and territory has its own emergency management portal:  ACT, NSW, NT, Qld, SA, Tas, Vic, WA.

Families and businesses can prepare for all these hazards. Extensive guides are available from emergency services for individual hazards in each state and territory. The Red Cross has a national all-hazard disaster preparedness guide for families.  You can also visit the fire agency and State Emergency Service websites in your state or territory for specific information about fires, storms (including cyclones) and floods.

The most important thing is to spend time discussing your options before the crisis emerges. Families and businesses should have a plan to follow when disaster strikes. Waiting until severe weather strikes to consider evacuation, asset protection and other factors can end in disaster.

Businesses need to understand their vulnerabilities and how key suppliers and customers might be affected by natural disasters. Tigertail helps businesses assess their key risk areas, build effective plans for times of crisis and runs training workshops to get the whole team up to speed.

The federal government has developed a template to help organisations prepare for all weather related risks this summer. Working with Tigertail, your business can understand, complete and improve upon this template. Crisis preparedness improves resilience in supply and delivery chains, flexibility in employment relations and companywide efficiencies.

Summer is a time for all Australians to relax. Our whole year is seemingly spent getting ready for those few hot months where most of us slow down and enjoy some quality family time. Whether you’re at the beach, in the bush or in town, you’ll enjoy this time of year even more if your family and/or business is prepared for anything our sometimes-harsh country can dish out.