Opryland Hotel, the Flu, and Hand Sanitizers – They’ve got more in common than you might guess.

We get bombarded with alot of health information. The latest that has impacted thousands of Tennesseans is that this season’s flu vaccine is about 23% effective against this year’s strain of flu. Basically, the medical elite were outsmarted by a virus. By looking at historical data, medical experts decide the probability of how the flu will mutate for the upcoming year and then they gamble on a vaccine cocktail to combat it. Normally, they do quite well, but this year the flu threw them a curve.

I’m sure most people have overlooked the outbreak of was is probably Norovirus at the Opryland Hotel over the past few weeks. The irony is that it reached its peak as the hotel was hosting about 2,000 medical professionals. Several large events have been cancelled due to outbreak and Opryland is promising a thorough “deep clean” of the entire facility.  Norovirus is a highly contagious particularly nasty stomach bug that tends to thrive in densely populated areas, such as cruise ships. It can be particularly dangerous to the very young, the elderly, and those with impaired immune systems but, trust me, it’s a bad 3-5 days for ANYONE who catches it.  While the Metro Health Department hasn’t yet released a final determination, most signs point to the stomach virus. Several people who were taken ill while at the Opryland spent a few days getting rehydrated at area hospitals and are very vocal about their expectations for the hotel to be responsible for their medical bills and time off work. We’ll see how exactly the hotel steps up to that obligation after the final report by the health department is released.

Now we take the flu and the Opryland Hotel and tie them into personal sanitization. Just like people on a cruise ship, or guests at a large hotel convention, we cannot assume that the establishment we are in, its employees, or our fellow guests follow the proper sanitary practices that prevent the spread of sickness. Therefore, we should be hyper-diligent and unapologetic in our own efforts to remain disease free. I was always a casual hand washer (after working outside, before eating etc) until a family member had a baby with a heart defect. We had to be 100% successful in keeping the baby disease free until she could have her heart surgery at a year old. Therefore, hand sanitizers were in every room, every car, every pocketbook. Wipes, alcohol gel, anti-bacterial lotions, you name it – we slavered it everywhere and our little one remained germ free until her heart surgery (and now is 6 years old and doing great!). I learned during that time to not apologize for whipping out the sanitizer. I would just say “you can’t be too careful!” and “I sure can’t afford to miss any work!” to strangers and, to people I knew, I would offer it to them as well. Usually, they would take it and we would all be happily sanitized together.

Some recommendations on hand sanitizers:

  • wipe any visible dirt off your hands prior to using
  • use enough to cover both hands
  • be sure and work it under your fingernails
  • rub it in until its dry – don’t wipe your hands on anything to dry them, this diminishes the effectiveness

A few people have voiced some concerns about hand sanitizers to me that were based on misinformation and I want to clear a few of them up:

  • hand sanitizers will not make you hands dry out any more than washing in soap and water. The glycerin base the alcohol is suspended in is very moisturizing. If you want to moisturize afterwards, wait til your hands are dry.
  • hand sanitizers do not cause “super bugs”. Germs are killed by the alcohol breaking down their outer cell structure, basically “melting” them. They cannot develop a defense or mutation to being melted.

Knock on wood, I haven’t gotten the flu or a stomach virus yet but the season isn’t over. One more piece of advice – one of the nastiest things you will encounter in public (besides restrooms) are shopping carts. Always look for the antibacterial wipes most stores have near their carts and wipe the handle and basket down well. Always carry a small packet with you into stores just in case they don’t have them. Try to not touch your face, especially your eyes and mouth while you are in the store and, once you’ve gotten back into your car, sanitize your hands.  And remember . . .