Cardinal Health Designs Program to Help Hospitals, Physicians Slow Spread of Flu, SARS; "Respiratory Etiquette" Initiative Aimed at Protecting Healthcare Workers, Patients

MCGAW PARK, Ill. -- In an effort to help healthcare providers stem the current flu outbreak and thwart a resurgence of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), Cardinal Health has launched a "Respiratory Etiquette Initiative" for caregivers worldwide.

Under the program, Cardinal Health is making available posters and wall-mounted dispensers with its medical face masks. The posters advise patients and visitors to put on a mask if they have a cough and a fever. Featuring the headline, "Cough + Fever = Mask" in English and Spanish, the posters illustrate clearly when someone should put on a face mask and instructs them on how to properly do so.

Dozens of hospitals have already hung the posters in waiting rooms, lobbies and emergency rooms. Cardinal Health is also offering educational materials aimed at reinforcing basic infection control practices. Tips include covering one's mouth and nose when sneezing or coughing, washing hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or using personal handwash products such as alcohol-based hand sanitizers.

"We are concerned about the health of caregivers and their patients," said James P. Stauner, president of Perioperative Products and Services at Cardinal Health. "We can help slow the spread of the flu and other respiratory illnesses with simple precautionary steps, such as wearing a 10-cent surgical mask and practicing good hand hygiene. No one wants to see a flu epidemic or a repeat of the last SARS outbreak. That's why we're offering educational tools, protective apparel and hand hygiene products to assist health-care facilities in their infection-prevention efforts."

This fall, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released recommendations encouraging healthcare facilities to initiate a "Universal Respiratory Etiquette Strategy," and to provide information and personal protective equipment to patients and caregivers.

Both the flu and SARS are respiratory illnesses that can be deadly. The flu is spread when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or speaks, sending flu virus into the air, where others can inhale it. The virus enters the nose, throat, or lungs and multiplies, causing symptoms of influenza. Influenza may, less often, be spread by hand-to-hand contact or when a person touches a surface that has the virus on it - a door handle, for instance - and then touches his or her nose or mouth.

SARS is believed to be spread in a similar way, although it may require closer physical contact.

"We want to make people aware of how easy it is to spread respiratory illnesses and how easy it is to prevent them," Stauner said. "Patients and visitors shouldn't be surprised if they're asked to put on a face mask and wash their hands if they show signs of respiratory illness. Patients can expect their doctors and other clinicians to do the same."

The CDC urges healthcare workers who come in contact with suspected SARS patients to practice careful hand hygiene, including hand washing with soap and water. If hands are not visibly soiled, alcohol-based hand gels may be used as an alternative to hand washing. Gloves, gowns, masks and eye protection should also be used.

According to the CDC, in areas that experienced extensive SARS outbreaks, the virus spread most rapidly among health-care workers caring for SARS patients and within health-care facilities. In Toronto, 77 percent of the patients infected in the initial SARS outbreak were infected in the hospital, and half of all SARS cases in Toronto were among healthcare workers.

Source: Cardinal Health, Inc.

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