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H1N1 Pandemic Precautions for Front Line Workers

WASHINGTON, May 14 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- If the H1N1 pandemic flu follows the pattern of the 1918 Great Pandemic it could come back with more vigor in a second wave next fall. In 1918, three separate recurrences of influenza followed each other with unusual rapidity, resulting in 3 explosive pandemic waves within a year's time. Dr. Thomas O'Brien, Vice President of the Alliance for the Prudent Use of Antibiotics and Microbiology Lab Director at Brigham and Women's Hospital stated this concern on May 14th before a Congressional Subcommittee, chaired by Congressman Stephen Lynch from the 9th district of Massachusetts.

Congressman Lynch called the hearing to consider how to protect federal workers who are first responders during flu epidemics. "I want to be sure we have good procedures in place to ensure the safety of federal workers and the public at large."

The work of APUA is given a special relevance to this danger by recent evidence that secondary bacterial infection was a major contributor to the 1918 influenza death rate and by recent changes in methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). Because of overuse of related antibiotics, MRSA has spread widely in the community in recent years and on multiple occasions has acquired resistance to vancomycin, the drug that has been relied on for treating it. "MRSA will thus be a very likely major contributor to the mortality of future influenza infections, and preventing its further acquisition of antibiotic resistances is necessary to keep those infections from becoming untreatable," according to Dr. O'Brien of APUA.

The best defense is to ensure funding for strong state and federal public health programs, said Dr. O'Brien. He complimented Dr. Richard Besser, acting Director of the CDC and Dr. Alfred DeMaria, Director of Communicable Disease Control of the Massachusetts Department of Public Health for their epidemiology investigations and effective communications during the influenza outbreak in April and May. He emphasized the importance of disease tracking programs and the need for simple but critical everyday hygiene measures such as vigorous hand washing with soap and water or alcohol gels for all citizens. For surface disinfection APUA recommends soap and water or use of bleach and alcohol antiseptics rather than those that contain antibacterial agents such as triclosan that could select for antibiotic resistance. Emphasis for front-line workers and the general public should be on the proven protections of good hygiene and hand washing and not on an unproven need for facemasks. Facemasks are currently only recommended for healthcare professionals with prolonged exposure to patients diagnosed with H1N1.

Dr. O'Brien cautioned against unnecessary or over use of antibiotics and antivirals, such over use leaves us without effective antiviral or antibiotic drugs when the need is greatest.

APUA is an international public health organization based in Boston with chapters in 61 countries; Dr. Stuart B. Levy is President of APUA and a Professor at Tufts Medical School. APUA's mission is to control drug resistance and preserve the power of antibiotics, through research and education worldwide. For more information please visit our website at

SOURCE Alliance for the Prudent Use of Antibiotics (APUA)
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