H1N1 changes normal public behaviors

October 2, 2009 6:40:28 PM PDT
The most direct way to get the H1N1 virus from an infected person is if they cough or sneeze in your face, but the virus can survive for hours on a surface. This has changed business as usual at ATMs, churches, and at a South Bay jail.

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Late Friday afternoon, correction officials banned all visitors at the Elmwood Correctional Facility in Milpitas. They have about 2,400 inmates. There are no confirmed cases of the H1N1 virus, but about 50 inmates are displaying low level symptoms and the county jail system is not the only place that precautions are being taken.

Catholic churches in Santa Clara County are fighting the H1N1 virus. The diocese has ordered no touching during the sign of peace and traditional communion has been modified.

"They quit having the communal wine that would normally be served, it's just a wafer now and everyone refrains from shaking hands. It's that type of thing," said James Pratt, a lifelong Catholic.

Health officials say the precautions make sense. The H1N1 virus can live on surfaces for hours --especially if the surface is wet. The danger begins when you touch something where the virus has been left, such as an ATM pad or grocery cart, and then bringing those germs to your face.

"If those germs are sitting on a surface somewhere, you could still pick up those germs and transmit them yourself by inoculating your eyes or your mouth or your nose," says Santa Clara County's public health officer Marty Fenstersheib, M.D.

That's why the centers for disease control recommends disinfecting potentially contaminated surfaces, frequent hand washing and the use of hand sanitizers -- a message that seems to be getting through.

"I make sure the kids have wipes on them -- antibacterial. I also teach them to sneeze into their shirt," says mother Penny Carrillo.

Kaiser Permanente San Jose is making a big effort to reinforce those good behaviors. Washing the paws of the giant Curious George balloon at the Children's Discovery Museum was a fun way to deliver a serious message. Everyone agrees the best way to contain the virus is at the source.

"Our message to everyone is that if you think you have the flu, if you think you have H1N1, please stay home," says Chief of Pediatrics Dr. Chynna Bantug, M.D.

That is the best advice. There are no visitors allowed at the Elmwood Correctional Facility until further notice. The ban does not impact the main jail in San Jose.

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