Thursday, December 14, 2000

Henry's health tips aim to curb kids' illness

Character urges hygiene to prevent flu

By Tim Bonfield
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Starting Sunday, Henry the Hand will be visiting schools and shopping malls to remind children about the public health benefits of proper hand-washing.

        Henry the Hand is a cartoon character created by local physician William Sawyer. Henry's seemingly lighthearted public tour is a serious part of a citywide effort to head off what might be an overwhelming flu season in Greater Cincinnati.

        With area hospitals filling up months before the traditional start of flu season and the flu shot campaign delayed for months by a national production problem, public health leaders are concerned that a normal-to-severe flu season could swamp hospitals.

        Even as health services work to vaccinate senior citizens and others at high risk, officials hope Henry the Hand's basic hygiene tips will limit the spread of influenza and other winter infections.

        “When we share our germs, the people we love get sick. Learn my rules and let's all stay well this winter,” says Henry in more than 35,000 brochures to be distributed at the Children's Museum, at shows at the Aronoff Center, and many local schools.

        Henry's rules include:

        • Wash your hands before eating.

        • Keep your fingers away from your eyes and mouth.

        • Cough or sneeze into your elbow instead of your hands.

        Even as Henry spreads his message, hospitals and emergency services are working on plans to cope with a possible rush of flu patients, said Colleen O'Toole, vice president of the Greater Cincinnati Health Council.

        Hospitals are identifying cafeterias, meeting rooms, chapels and outpatient holding areas as places they may need to put flu patients. They are scouting for extra nursing help from nurse administrators, students and recent retirees.

        They are asking doctors to be more careful about ordering admissions to extra-busy hospitals. They also are seeking state and federal permission to put flu patients in beds normally reserved for non-acute services. And, if needed, they are seeking permission to open off-site “treat and release” sites — a situation the Tristate hasn't seen in decades, if ever.

        Meanwhile, hospitals and area life squads have agreed to changes in local diversion guidelines that could reduce the chances of all the hospitals in one part of town turning away life squads at the same time.


ELECTION 2000 SPECIAL COVERAGE: Tristate reaction and impact from Al Gore's concession and George W. Bush's transition to the presidency, plus the latest news from Associated Press.

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