Nick Young: To beat swine flu we need to show some personal responsibility

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If we know a threat is likely, it is irresponsible not to prepare and take basic steps against it. And it is simple community-based efforts that are the most effective. Which is why the public response to swine flu has often been troubling.

A recent survey found that in the United Kingdom only around a quarter of respondents had increased the amount they washed their hands since swine flu became a threat. Only 17 in 100 people said they cleaned surfaces they regularly touch, such as door handles, more often as a result of swine flu, and only 15 in 100 had discussed with a friend or family member what they would do if one of them caught the virus.

Hand and surface hygiene is one of the simplest and most reliable steps anyone can take to combat swine flu – as is preparing for the eventuality of actually having the virus yourself by, for example, establishing who your "flu friends" are who can collect prescriptions on your behalf.

These are simple, effective steps, but they cannot be forced on us; they are an issue of personal responsibility. We cannot simply expect governments and science to halt the pandemic in its tracks with no effort on our own part.

Yes, the vaccine is coming, but it is still more than a month away and even once it arrives it will not be available to everyone. But there is plenty that those of us who will need to rely on other measures can do.

Overcoming the threat relies on all of us to act responsibly and to protect ourselves and those close to us. In protecting ourselves against swine flu we also protect our families, neighbours, friends, colleagues and our communities as a whole.

The flu is here, and we know a second wave is coming. Technology can help us, but there is no hi-tech, zero-effort magic bullet. It is considerately blown noses, washed hands and knowing who our flu friends are that will make the real difference.

In a culture that increasingly demands hi-tech solutions, it is easy to forget that the most effective measures any of us can take are simple and straightforward, requiring not a single hertz of computing power or second of medical research.

Sir Nick Young is the Chief Executive of the British Red Cross. For more information on the British Red Cross' approach to swine flu visit: redcross.org.uk/swineflu

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