The Pandemic Has Officially Arrived

The World Health Organization has made it official: H1-N1 influenza (a.k.a. swine flu) is now a global pandemic – otherwise known as Phase 6, the highest alert level.

Some people may be confused by this, having heard that this flu is relatively mild. While it’s a great relief that this virus does not seem particularly deadly, that’s actually unrelated to the WHO declaring it a pandemic.

It’s a new illness that has spread to many people across the entire globe — that’s what makes it a pandemic. The fact that it’s less likely to kill you than the plague, tuberculosis or HIV — that’s what makes us lucky this time around.

So what does this mean for your dental practice? Frankly, not that much, as long as you already practice Universal Precautions.


Dentists Make a Few Changes for H1N1 Flu

Dentists & H1N1 fluOne quarter of dentists (24%) have responded to H1N1 flu by making changes – twice as many as last April, when the CDC declared swine flu a health emergency.

We also found that 10% of dentists say one or more of their team members have had H1N1. When it comes to the swine flu vaccine, 10% of dentists have gotten vaccinated, 48% would like to get the H1N1 vaccine, and 43% do not plan to get the vaccine.

Here are some comments from dentists:

  • “We ask all our patients to either wash their hands or use the hand sanitizer upon entering the waiting room. So far, we’ve had 100% positive feedback and many thanks.”
  • “Just keeping a better picture on patients who want appointments earlier or at a specific time or date. If a patient is ill, we can attempt to move another patient into that date/time they have initially requested.” (Maryland dentist)
  • “Using universal precautions there should be no changes needed. If so I wouldn’t go to that office.” (Pennsylvania dentist)
  • “I’m concerned about the swine flu in general, but I don’t think it poses an increased risk in the dental office.” (West Virginia dentist)
  • “The vaccine is in short supply, so I will save it for higher risk people.” (Texas dentist)
  • “I placed a reception room notice for patients to inform us about their current status of flu symptoms, i.e. elevated temperature, onset of breathing problems.” (Wyoming dentist)
  • “Patient screening: postponing appointments for patients with flu and flu-like symptoms.” (California dentist)
  • “Usually we accept patients that are sick as long as not coughing. We will no longer treat patients with a fever.” (Florida dentist)
  • “Patients with fever are rescheduled. Patients with confirmed swine flu are rescheduled 10 days after the confirmation.”

Read more: H1N1 Flu Leads To Some Changes for Dentists, Dental Practices

Dental Nurses To Be Drafted in Case of Swine Flu Emergency

Dental nurses may leave dentists to help with swine flu in UKDental nurses to the rescue! The NHS has developed an emergency plan in case of a massive swine flu outbreak.

Should hospitals become overwhelmed with H1N1 flu patients, the plan calls for dental nurses to be drafted to help out hospital staff.

The dental nurses would not be expected to provide nursing care directly to patients, but they could offer assistance with triage, providing information, and all the administrative tasks associated with a major influenza outbreak.

Read the BBC story

H1-N1 Flu Update for Dentists

Though the swine flu threat has put the whole world on high alert, it seems it may not be the devastating pandemic authorities had feared. Still, it’s important for health professionals to stay abreast of the situation, and reviewing infection control standards is never a bad thing.

Here’s where you can find the latest H1-N1 flu information as it relates to dentists and dental practices:

The most relevant information is in the CDC document Prevention of Swine Flu in the Dental Healthcare Setting. It’s pretty much Infection Control 101: things you should already know but that are always good to review. In short, be extra-careful with patients who might be ill.

Here are some highlights from the document:

Infection control issues during patient assessment:

  • “Patients with an acute respiratory illness should be identified at check-in and placed in a single-patient room with the door kept closed.
  • “Offer a disposable surgical mask to persons who are coughing, or provide tissues and no-touch receptacles for used tissue disposal.
  • “The ill person should wear a surgical mask when outside the patient room.
  • “Dental healthcare personnel assessing a patient with influenza-like illness should wear disposable surgical facemask, non-sterile gloves, gown, and eye protection (e.g., goggles) to prevent direct skin and conjunctival exposure.
  • “Patient and dental healthcare workers should perform hand hygiene (e.g., hand washing with non-antimicrobial soap and water, alcohol-based hand rub, or antiseptic handwash) after having contact with respiratory secretions and contaminated objects/materials.
  • “Routine cleaning and disinfection strategies used during influenza seasons can be applied to the environmental management of swine influenza.”

What if you’re concerned a patient may have swine flu?

“If the dentist suspects the illness could be due to swine influenza (symptoms include fever, body aches, runny nose, sore throat, nausea, or vomiting or diarrhea), elective dental treatment should be deferred and the patient should be advised to contact their general health care provider.”

What about staff members who may be ill?

  • “Staff experiencing influenza-like-illness (ILI) (fever with either cough or sore throat, muscle aches) should not report to work.
  • “Staff who experience ILI and wish to seek medical care should contact their health care providers to report illness (by telephone or other remote means) before seeking care at a clinic, physician’s office, or hospital.
  • “Staff who were not using appropriate personal protective equipment during close contact with a confirmed, probable, or suspect case of swine influenza A (H1N1) virus infection during the case’s infectious period should receive chemoprophylaxis according to CDC guidance.”

Swine Flu Causes Some Dentists To Make Changes

We recently asked dentists if they are making any changes as a result of the threat of H1-N1 Influenza. Most are not, but 12% have, and another 29% are considering it.

We are now at level 5. “At level 5 we will be masked, gloved and eye shields at all times,” said one dentist. “A pandemic is nothing to sneeze at.”

These are some of the changes dentists have made:

  • More frequent hand washing and use of hand sanitizer
  • Not treating patients who feel ill
  • Encouraging sick employees to stay home
  • Using R-95 face masks to block virus particles
  • Use of eye shields

And here are some comments from dentists:

  • “No pigs allowed in the waiting room.” (West Virginia dentist)
  • “Maybe ask patients if they don’t feel well to wait to come in for appt. Hand out masks in the waiting room? Otherwise, will follow our normal universal precautions.” (California dentist)
  • “I think it is a bogus threat, in line with SARS and any number of so-called possible pandemics.” (Kansas dentist)
  • “More diligent about hand washing and infection control.” (New Jersey dentist)
  • “Basic cleanliness already practiced is all that is necessary.” (Utah dentist)
  • “Pandemic??? Give me a break! 325 million US residents, and what, 50 cases with no fatalities. Even Mexico, only 150 deaths. More people died last weekend on the golf course from lightning!” (Washington dentist)
  • “Not worried. People catch the flu, and guess what? They can pass it on to someone else–it’s contagious. I will continue to practice universal precautions and common sense.” (California dentist)

Read more: Swine Flu Raises Infection Control Awareness Among Dentists

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