Photo courtesy of William Harvey.
One of my professional contacts is a medical doctor and chair of epidemiology. It is great having a brilliant colleague to garner advice from to protect not only myself but other coppers as well. We were having a discussion on some of the new disease threats that are facing all of the emergency response community. I for one have always worried about getting the heebie-jeebies so I had to ask my friend with the 10-pound brain for advice. (Average human brain is three pounds, so he is really smart.)
The doctor's advice was that there is no way to protect yourself from everything short of living in a bubble or working in a Level A fully encapsulated hazmat suit. However, he did recommend three important steps that you can take to protect yourself. All three of his recommendations involve prophylactic vaccines.
Now I know some of you are not "go to the doctor" types and many more are OK with going until the part of the visit when the syringe comes out. Some may have medical reasons to skip vaccinations and some have other personal reasons, which I can accept. I do not accept the excuse that you are afraid of needles. Get over it and go get protection from some bad bugs.
My doctor friend's very first recommendation is to get a tetanus shot and maintain its effectiveness. Tetanus (aka Lockjaw) is not a curable disease, but it is a vaccine-preventable one. Face it, you will get nicks and cuts in your daily duties. Proper wound care and bandages will help, but only so much. You never know when you will get a puncture wound with the bad stuff on it.
His second recommendation is to get the Hepatitis A and B immunizations. (Note: there are no Hepatitis C immunizations). Most employers will supply these. If yours doesn't, seek them from your family physician.
Without getting too deep into this, we all have to deal with blood, evidence, and victims whose lifestyles and habits are not known. You most likely will come into contact with Hepatitis at some point. Most every department should have a needle stick protocol. It can happen and we all have that concern when doing anything from patting down a junkie to searching vehicles.
It's a good idea to wear quality stick-proof gloves but often things occur when you cannot glove up. Do what you can to protect yourself in just such a situation. If you want to get some real facts on this, go to this flyer for information (http://www.cdc.gov/idu/hepatitis/vaccines.pdf).
Third, get the annual flu shot. I know the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (www.cdc.gov) has the big crystal ball in projecting the upcoming year's strains. Of course, if inoculated you still could get a variation that is not in this year's photolytic. But at least you're limiting the strains that could affect you.
Most of you are the young, healthy types and will scoff at this bit of advice. Yes, the standard recommendation is for the very young (less than 6) and the old (65 plus) to get the flu shot, and others as directed by their physicians. But most health workers are mandated to get an annual flu vaccine. Think about why this is. Now stop and think about how many times you have to respond to the emergency room for investigations. You will have waded through a sea of influenza patients waiting there to get treatment. You as a street cop will be exposed, so why risk it? At least consider getting the flu shot.
Finally, do not forget all of the Decon 101 protections you have been taught. Glove up when you should. Pack in your bag a box of adhesive bandages to cover up the nicks and cuts of the day. Finally, the doc told me that proper hand washing throughout the day is his final recommendation. If you are one of those who thinks you will not catch anything or can survive it if you do get a bug, that's nice for you. But I want you to also consider that you could become a carrier of disease even if you don't exhibit symptoms, so why risk your loved ones' health?
So there you go, no more excuses. Prepare by getting your shots and stay healthy.