Swine Flu – isolation – a personal view

Australia’s swine flu numbers are increasing and the government is introducing new measures regularly in response. I write this post from self-imposed isolation from the swine flu outbreak in my son’s high school.  There are some interesting decisions that have been made which provide me with optimism but also illustrate some useful personnel management actions.

I heard about a confirmed case of swine flu at the high school at my son’s soccer match last Sunday.  I was asked by a soccer mum whether my son knew a boy at his high school who was a confirmed swine flu case.  He did and we had not heard.

When I returned home there was no message from the school on my answering machine and nothing on my mobile.  I looked on the internet and the case was reported but more importantly the school was to be closed for a week.  I confirmed the media report by looking at the local health department website.  The case and control measure was mentioned.

However, what does it mean in the broader context when a school is closed?  Is my son in “isolation”? Are the other family members?  The websites could not help with this so I rang the helpline listed on the website.  Yes, my son should have no contact with people outside the house and we should monitor his health, and that of others in the household, for symptoms.

I knew my employer had issued an email from Human Resources in late April advising what to do in the case of an outbreak of swine flu.  However, this is not much help for the days prior to symptoms or confirmation of the infection.  As I am not in isolation I could be going to work as normal and potentially and innocently infecting work colleagues – not a good risk control.  (I have written elsewhere on the matter of presenteeism, here was a preventative opportunity)

I put some risk management questions to the employer even though my advice would be to have me work from home.  Within 12 hours, my employer had set me up to work from home for the rest of the week.  The IT adviser emailed me a procedure entitled “Flu Pandemic Remote Access”.  I commented that I was a little surprised that the company was this prepared.  The IT adviser said it was only new and I was the first user.

My wife’s employer is still assessing the situation but we are of the same opinion that if work can be done from home, we should be located at home for the remainder of the isolation period.  We are lucky that our occupations afford us this option.

On Monday morning the school rang me to answer any questions about swine flu.  I didn’t ask any as we had done our homework and arranged to go to school to collect some of my son’s schoolwork for his time in isolation.

It could be asked why the school waited 24 hours to notify me? How does any company or organisation contact up to 700 people on the weekend?  These are issues that are currently also being discussed in a Royal Commission into Victorian Bushfires in Melbourne.  The school had all of its staff and teachers on the phones after a meeting at 9.00am that morning.  The school’s website did not get an update until Monday morning but not everyone turns on their PC on a Sunday.   In the context of the slow encroachment of swine flu in Australia, I think this was reasonable.

It should be noted that although my son was friends with the infected boy only the immediate classmates were provided with Tamiflu and that this occurred on the Sunday – a fair response.

Anticipating the family being at home for a week, I purchased some supplies including a thermometer as a useful way of identifying  at least one of the swine flu symptoms.

Two days into isolation and there are no symptoms.

From a professional OHS perspective, communication has been acceptable. Available online information was okay and company support reassuring.  At this early stage of the outbreak in Australia, we are optimistic and not worrying ourselves over issues over which we have no control.

Kevin Jones

6 thoughts on “Swine Flu – isolation – a personal view”

  1. Paul

    I agree with your call for urgency.

    I draw your attention to Peter Sandman\’s website (www.psandman.com) where he has recently established a sub0site on pandemics and swine flu. I think it is definitive.

  2. Hi

    After the 5th June – for a further 7 days – it would increase further – over 300,000 in the next 14 days, if only one person passes it on to more……. I don\’t think people realise the potential risk. I personally think they should close schools now for 14 days, reduce the spread…..

    It is going to spread faster in Australia and NZ because we are in winter.

    I also think there are many more cases out there, which have not be reported, due to the fact people can\’t afford to take time off work, or be quarantined.

    The government should be doing more to help those affected by swine flu, so they can stay at home.


  3. Paul

    I realise the severity of the risk and with the rapid increase in cases this week in Australia it is disappointing that the government has not changed its advisories. Some have begun to forecast a 10% to 20% infection of the country which equates to over 2 million people.

    Swine flu has the potential to generate huge societal disruption to Australia, a country isolated from most large-scale risks faced by other nations. I believe the government is struggling to cope with the issues at this early stage of the process and is just starting to accept the enormity of the political decisions. Look at the handling of the cruise ship matter for an example.

    The experts on pandemics have good knowledge and give good advice. I know some and have listened to their advice since SARS. I think it is the political realities that Australia is having trouble with.

  4. I have tracked this flu since it appeared in Mexico. (200 deaths – 100 buried before they realised)
    I think Australia is acting a little too slow. The Swine flu might mix with normal flu, once this happens then it becomes a problem. Swine flu, and normal flu on their own are a mild form of the flu, when they mix together they can be deadly. Which is why if you have swine flu you should be quarantined . If you look at the figures there is a 2% mortality rate. (2 deaths in 100 cases)

    If you look at the news, all you seem to hear is that most cases are mild, is this because they don\’t want to alarm people?

    150 cases on 29/5/09 – there will be over 10000 cases in the next 7 days if not contained now.

    If every person only passes the flu on to 1 more person, see below….
    150 cases x 2 Sat = 300 cases
    300 cases x 2 Sun = 600 cases
    600 cases x 2 Mon = 1200 cases
    1200 cases x 2 Tue = 2400 cases
    2400 cases x 2 Wed = 4800 cases
    4800 cases x 2 Thur= 9600 cases << 5th June 2009

  5. The swine flue outbreak should not handled by isolating people and creating fear among them. Rather proper vaccination should be carried out in large numbers and people be allowed to live a normal life.

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