Rejected ST letter: ONE SIMPLE WAY to avoid Swine Flu

May 22, 2009 by
Filed under: Archives 

Rejected ST letter written by Mr David See Leong Kit

EDITOR’S NOTE: I would like to thank Mr David See for his kind permission in allowing me to publish his letter.

ONE SIMPLE WAY to avoid Swine Flu

by See Leong Kit

[ My contributed letter which was rejected for publication by ST Forum Editor Yap Koon Hong -- who somehow could devote considerable prominent space in its Print Edition for a letter on the airy-fairy topic of "Durian warning and happy pickings at park"! ]

I refer to your editorial “Laid low again by a microbe” (Apr 28) and Mr Lucas Png’s timely letter “Small precautions make a big difference” (May 2).

A pandemic on top of the global recession could decimate our already ailing economy and lead to even more jobless Singaporeans.

However, before asking Singaporeans to do their part, our Government must first educate them on how to tackle disease threats, such as the current Swine Flu worldwide outbreak.

We must never be complacent, especially with respiratory diseases such as Human Flu, SARS, Bird Flu, Swine Flu and Tuberculosis. A normal person can survive without food or water for some time. But if he cannot breathe due to infected lungs, he will just die!

Besides the widely-known personal hygiene habits of washing hands and not coughing openly, there is also the little-known “sharing food” eating habit of dipping chopsticks and spoons into common dishes, as mentioned by Mr Png.

A 1994 Ministry of Health (MOH) publication had confirmed that through sharing food, “we are likely to share saliva as well, with any bacteria or viruses in it“.

Indeed, as a body fluid, saliva can transmit many micro-organisms. To name just a few — viruses that cause HFMD, Human Flu, SARS, Bird Flu, Swine Flu, liver cancer (Hepatitis B), nose cancer (Epstein-Barr) and bacteria that cause Tuberculosis, Meningitis, stomach cancer (Helicobacter Pylori).

Few Singaporeans know that adults can also contract Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease through either close contact or sharing food, and then passing on this viral infection to their own children in the same manner.

Health risks aside, stop and think — How can you possibly “enjoy” your food when it is “spiced” with the saliva of other people?

The MOH publication also had this simple recommendation which costs nothing to implement — the use of serving spoons, separate soup bowls and sauce dishes, both at home and in public eating places, such as hawker centres and restaurants.

Regrettably, this important public health advice was never widely publicised. Thus, many Singaporeans remain unaware of the associated health risks.

A 2004 Straits Times report quoted this from Health Minister Khaw Boon Wan: “There is nothing wrong with communal eating. But I think we can make it hygienic just by using serving spoons.”

For years, Chinese restaurants in Australia have been providing serving spoons as a routine hygienic practice. Not so with most restaurants here, where it is a constant hassle asking sulky staff to provide serving spoons for each common dish.

These follow-up actions are now urgently needed:

  • Health Promotion Board should mount an effective campaign to educate Singaporeans on “Eat The Hygienic Way” (using serving spoons) to complement its on-going efforts on “Eat The Healthy Way” (more fruits and vegetables).
  • National Environment Agency, using its licensing clout, to issue a compulsory directive for hawkers and restaurants to provide serving spoons automatically.

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