Reuters Issues Bird Flu Coverage Safety Advice
Reuters has issued its news staff worldwide with guidance on how to help protect themselves while covering an outbreak of bird flu.
The global news organisation, a member of INSI, has agreed to share its advice for the benefit of all in the news business who might encounter these risks.
The Reuters advisory:
Bird flu is a big story and likely to grow in importance in the coming months. Journalists covering the story must be very careful to avoid infection.
If we decide to report or film at the site of an outbreak, our journalists must wear protective clothing -- plastic overalls (one well known brand is called barrierman), surgical gloves, N95 face masks, overboots, protective glasses, wipes. Disposable items should be destroyed (burnt) after use; more permanent items like glasses should be washed thoroughly in hot water and bleach. If people inadvertently go to a site without protective clothing, they should remove their clothes and shoes while wearing disposable gloves and then wash clothes and shoes in hot water and bleach, as well as wash themselves thoroughly with soap and hot water.
The reason for these precautions is that the main source of infection currently is contact with the faeces of infected birds; so it is obvious that walking in the mud of a poultry farm is dangerous. It is also dangerous to drink chicken or duck blood or eat raw or undercooked poultry meat. In the past the view has been that infected chickens are readily identified because they look sick and behave strangely. Duck are more dangerous because they act normally when infected. There is now some evidence that infected chickens may also not show signs of infection. Wild birds too can be infected.
In these circumstances we should think very carefully whether it is worth going to a poultry farm or facility to report. These assignments must be approved …[by senior editors]… . As with SARS, there is a firm ban on going to hospitals or clinics to film or report on sick people.
Protecting our kit
Stills camera equipment and bags should also be covered in transparent plastic (e.g. Saran Wrap), where possible, which is destroyed afterwards; alternatively equipment should be cleaned carefully with bleach or another disinfectant. Alternatively cheap underwater housing for your cameras may be available (check out your local dive centre or camera shop -- you want something cheap and simple). Additionally please make sure all lenses are covered by a filter which can be either cleaned or thrown away when appropriate. (Cheap filters are available at any camera store -- … [editors] can advise).
TV camera equipment and bags should also be covered in transparent plastic (e.g. Saran Wrap), where possible, which is destroyed afterwards; alternatively equipment should be cleaned with disinfectant. We need to ensure that tripods, microphones, ladders etc are equally protected, but it is accepted that trying to cover or uncover a tripod is difficult and time-consuming. We could therefore simplify by using covered mini-DV cameras (without tripod) and no sound bag when shooting possible infection sites. Interviews should be done off site.
Bleaching and burning of protective equipment should be carried out at the site before returning to the office.
Much of this protective equipment is not expensive and we should make it available to our regular stringers too.
If the virus spreads
If the virus mutates into one that can be transmitted from human to human, the story will become much more urgent. And all these plans will be revised and updated.
Any staff who hear of family or neighbours falling ill with suspected flu should report this to their bureau chiefs who should in turn escalate it to the cluster chiefs. Bureau chiefs should review business continuity plans to ensure the bureau could continue to function if staff have fallen ill, the building is closed off through quarantine, or staff prefer to work from home.
Experts differ on what can be used to treat bird flu if it becomes a human-to-human infection. The most widely discussed treatment is an anti-viral drug called Tamiflu, made by Roche. Some governments are already stockpiling supplies. But once the virus mutates, Tamiflu may no longer be effective. In any case experts differ whether it can be taken prophylactically to ward off infection, or at what point it is most effective to start taking it if infection starts. Nevertheless because of the interest in this drug we want bureaux to monitor its availability in their countries.
There are some basic health precautions everyone can take. Influenza viruses are almost always passed hand to mouth or hand to nose -- constant and consistent handwashing is the best way to protect against it. Washing hands frequently in an epidemic, and especially after touching door knobs, banisters and the like, helps prevent infection. You should also use alcohol-based hand washes, gels or wipes if they are available in your country -- they were popular in many countries during the SARS epidemic. You should also get a vaccination against "normal" winter flu -- the precise vaccine varies from year to year. This will not protect against a pandemic of a human-to-human version of bird flu, but it will make it harder for bird flu to "mix" with normal human flu; this sort of combination is one way in which experts expect a human-to-human form to evolve. It will also make it easier for doctors to diagnose patients.
It is the responsibility of bureau chiefs to make sure that their staff …understand these precautions.