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West End prepares for H1N1 with hand sanitizers

People passing through Guardian Angel’s Parish in Vancouver’s West End can stop for a moment to get a squirt of…

By Sarah Buell , in Health , on October 29, 2009 Tags: , , , ,

The West End is one of the most densely populated areas in Vancouver
The West End is one of the most densely populated areas in Vancouver

People passing through Guardian Angel’s Parish in Vancouver’s West End can stop for a moment to get a squirt of gel that could, potentially, save their lives.

The gels are hand sanitizers, and they are being used in some high traffic areas of Vancouver’s West End to help stop the spread of H1N1.

The Public Health Agency of Canada, as well other health authorities, have recommended proper hand hygiene as an effective way to prevent transmission of the virus. This includes washing hands with soap and water, and using an alcohol based hand sanitizer.

The local health authority, Vancouver Coastal Health offers similar advice, but does not provide specific guidance for busy areas packed with people such as the West End.

This hasn’t stopped some of the  gathering spots in Vancouver’s densely populated West End to take their own preventative measures.

A few high traffic places have taken hand washing recommendations one step further by providing the use of hand sanitizers to the public.

A popular initiative

“We have put out hand sanitizer in lots of places around the church, especially at the entrance and in the kitchens. Basically anytime you have to go through a room there would be a hand sanitizer there for you,” said Michele Brubacher, the office coordinator at St. Andrew’s-Wesley United Church on Burrard and Nelson.

Brubacher said the church has had sanitizers for a while, but added more in September to prepare for the upcoming flu season.

A few blocks away on Broughton Street, Guardian Angels Parish has a similar prevention plan which has proven to be quite popular.

“We’ve already refilled our dispensers,” said Riz Gronimo, the Parish Secretary commenting on the popularity of the church’s hand sanitizers.

Hand sanitizers are a recommended alternative when soap and water are unavailable
Hand sanitizers are recommended when soap and water are unavailable

Gronimo said the church put out the sanitizers at the start of October after a recommendation from the  Arch Dioceses office. The sanitizers are placed in various locations throughout the church including the entrances and the altar.

The Gordon Neighborhood House and Joe Fortes Library Branch also have sanitizers for the public. The Gordon Neighborhood House has three dispensers, one by the entrance, one by the washroom, and one upstairs.

The library, however, decided to only put dispensers at the reference desk. “To have it out all over the place it gets stolen,” explained Jean Kavanagh a spokesperson for the Vancouver Public Library.

Kavanagh  also cited the alcohol content of the sanitizers as another reason for this decision.

But sanitizers are not found consistently across the West End. The only mall in the district, the Denman Place Mall doesn’t have any public hand sanitizers, however the main shopping mall in the downtown core, The Pacific Centre, does.

The West End Community Centre only provides sanitizers for staff. No one was available for comment.

Hand sanitizers recommended

Health care workers see a key role for sanitizers in busy urban areas such as the West End.

“We strongly recommend hand sanitizers. Or soap and water, either one, but hand sanitizers with alcohol is what we’re recommending,” said Infection Control Practitioner and Registered Nurse Jim Curtin.

“It’s ideal for areas where people don’t have quick access to soap and water.”

Curtin works for Providence Health Care, a faith based health care organization who own three hospitals and several health care residences in Vancouver, including St. Paul’s Hospital.

He has been dealing directly with H1N1, a strain of the flu which has already caused 12 deaths to date in British Columbia.  He advocates for proper hand hygiene as a way to prevent the spread of the flu.

Curtin occasionally works out of St. Paul’s Hospital in the West End. He says the hospital and all other Providence Health Care buildings employ the practice of good hand hygiene.

There are sanitizers wherever people congregate such as offices, hallways, doorways and conference rooms.

Curtin also recommends carrying around portable hand sanitizers for times when they aren’t otherwise available. Sanitizers can be purchased at any local drug stores.

Alcohol based hand sanitizers kill most types of bacteria, viruses and fungi in a few seconds. But they do not wash away dirt or grime, so they are not considered a replacement for washing your hands.

(Photo of Vancouver’s West End courtesy of Flickr user ecstaticist)