Fear is contagious and looking at people on the road wearing masks, it appears that everyone is terrified. Everybody from my gardener who is tending the garden with his homemade mask to my next door computer techie neighbor, who drives to work in his own car with his N95 mask on, is taking precautions against getting infected.

Why do people think that wearing a mask will prevent them from getting the flu? Was it written in the papers and, and if so were guidelines about mask usage also written? Where are people getting their information? As a communication professional I find it amazing how information is being disseminated.

Now, much has been written about the swine flu but people seem to absorb what suits them. Yes, it has killed people and there are reasons to take precautionary measures; however aren’t there more dangerous things than the swine flu? Other diseases have been publicized, AIDS and TB have caused many fatalities, yet there is no fear regarding these deadly diseases.

The same people wearing masks driving their bikes drive without helmets and talk on their cell phones while driving. The chances of them having a serious fall are much more than catching the swine flu, especially while driving! How do we put fear in their minds?
Unsafe sex –India has the one of the highest rate of the spread of AIDS in the world. There are several awareness campaigns and progress has been made but not enough. How do we put fear of AIDS in people’s minds?

Tuberculosis –TB today kills more people than any other infectious disease in India. One thousand people die in India each day due to this disease. TB is widespread and contagious, everyone is at risk. One out of every two adults is infected with the tuberculosis bacilli and according to the World Health Organization, 28 people out of every lakh are dying due to TB. I think these figures are truly quite scary, why aren’t people scared?

Spitting is a trigger to the spread of TB (many infectious diseases including the swine flu in fact), yet no one seems to know this, and spitting has not decreased at all. Unfortunately, some mask wearers push aside their masks for the few seconds they need to blow their nose or spit in the street! How do we educate people about the basics…no excretion from any part of your body in public! Why aren’t people scared if they see someone spits?

Garbage –Pune has become a dirty place with bins of overflowing garbage all over the city. These unhygienic conditions are a brewing ground for all sorts of diseases including malaria, dengue, and gastritis. But we are not scared. If there was a plague scare then at least perhaps our Babus at the corporation would implement a solution to clean up.

How do we educate people about the importance of hand washing and hygiene as prevention to the spread of all types of diseases? This is the need of the day, an opportunity to get people to listen. For how long can we close public places and schools? Let’s use this time to educate the people on good hygiene. Masks are necessary for certain individuals in the high risk category such as health professionals or those that need to go in a crowd. Masks should also be used if you have a cold or illness so that you do not spread it to others.

Hand washing is the best solution to deter spread of disease. Our hands are in contact with hundreds of germs on a daily basis. If we touch our mouths, eyes, nose or another person then those germs spread. Despite the proven health benefits of hand washing, many people don’t practice this habit as often as they should — even after using the toilet.

Follow these instructions for washing with soap and water:

  • Wet your hands with warm, running water and apply liquid soap or use clean bar soap. Lather well.
  • Rub your hands vigorously together for at least 10 to 15 seconds.
  • Scrub all surfaces, including the backs of your hands, wrists, between your fingers and under your fingernails.
  • Rinse well. Dry your hands with a clean or towel.

Although it’s impossible to keep your bare hands germ-free, there are times when it’s critical to wash your hands to limit the transfer of bacteria, viruses and other microbes.

Always wash your hands:

  • After using the toilet
  • After changing a diaper — wash the diaper-wearer’s hands, too
  • After touching animals or animal waste
  • Before and after preparing food, especially before and immediately after handling raw meat, poultry or fish
  • Before eating
  • After blowing your nose
  • After coughing or sneezing into your hands
  • Before and after treating wounds or cuts
  • Before and after touching a sick or injured person
  • After handling garbage
  • Before inserting or removing contact lenses

Please pass this info on, translate it into Hindi/Marathi and put up signs. Tell your loved ones, neighbors, colleagues and household help. We can all play a part in spreading the correct information at this crucial time.