OUA takes action on preventing swine flu

Attempt to stave off H1N1 virus by avoiding handshaking is ‘goofy,’ infectious disease expert says

H1N1 concerns have impacted all sports
Image by: Tyler Ball
H1N1 concerns have impacted all sports

The men’s hockey team’s attempts to prevent potentially spreading of the H1N1 virus were met with hostility after their 10-1 loss to the McGill Redmen in Montreal on Oct. 30.

The McGill crowd was unaware that both teams’ coaches had agreed not to shake hands prior to the game, Gaels head coach Brett Gibson said last week.

“The morning of, all coaches sent around emails. It was a gentlemen agreement—because of the H1N1 we agreed that it would be up to our discretion to shake hands,” he said. “We don’t want to spread paranoia but we just wanted to be proactive.”

Gibson said the league’s referees had already been refraining from the tradition of handshaking with coaches before a game.

Perceived as unsportsmanlike and booed in Montreal, the Gaels switched to bumping gloves with their opponents in following games.

The men’s hockey team hasn’t been the only one to take preventative measures in lieu of the H1N1 virus. OUA executive director Ward Dilse said eight interuniversity games have been cancelled over the past two weeks because athletes were displaying flu-like symptoms.

“If a team has enough flu-like symptoms that make them unable to field a team, regardless if it’s H1N1 we’re cancelling [their game],” he said.

Dilse said the OUA’s policy regarding H1N1 was developed in conjunction with other regional sport associations across the country as well as the CIS.

“It is a preventative policy, however it also deals with the situation where teams are unable to compete. It’s a process where we make a decision on the status of the game and do official communication and notifications,” he said. “Education of athletes is very much so in the policy. They do follow Health Canada guidelines about the precautionary measures, keeping hands clean, not sharing water bottles, not sharing towels. It’s a big part of our policy.”

Dilse said the policy lacks emphasis on handshaking.

“We’re continuing with our sport policies on that to conduct handshakes,” he said. “As you can imagine, in a multi-sport organization, in so many of our sports there’s hand contact during the game. Whether you’re bouncing a basketball or touching a volleyball, you’re touching the same object. So a handshake after the game won’t have any impact.”

Dr. Gerald Evans, chief of the infectious diseases division at Kingston General and Hotel Dieu hospitals and associate professor in the School of Medicine, said some preventative measures can border on excessive.

“The chances of you catching influenza from shaking somebody’s hand after a game have to be pretty well zero,” he said. “As an infectious disease specialist, I think that’s kind of goofy.”

Dr. Evans said most influenza prevention efforts are futile.

“Things like hand washing and not sharing things and stuff like that have a modest degree of effectiveness, but they’re not going to prevent the virus from spreading around,” he said. “So when people are breathing and coughing and especially if you’re exerting yourself during some sports activities, you’re going to be breathing out at people who are nearby you.”

Evans said staying home is the best way to prevent spreading the virus.

“Obviously if somebody’s sick they shouldn’t be going into practice or going out to a game,” he said. “But that’s actually a funny piece of advice. If you’re sick with this flu there’s no way on earth you’re going to play team sports because you’re just too sick.”

Illness-related cancellations in Ontario have affected men’s and women’s hockey and women’s volleyball. Queen’s teams haven’t been involved in any cancellations, but Athletics and Recreation Director Leslie Dal Cin said they’re adhering to OUA procedure and educating their athletes on prevention with assistance from Health Counseling and Disability Services.

“We haven’t taken an institutional stance,” she said. “We will respect the rules the OUA have laid down, and CIS and how they’re handling it. And also we will respect the rules of any provincial sport organization or the institution that’s hosting us in a game.”

Women’s hockey forward Becky Conroy said she has seen a change in her team’s attitude. She said like the men’s hockey team, the women’s team is shaking hands with gloves on.

“We’ve all gotten new water bottles with our names on them, which you should probably always be doing but our team didn’t,” she said. “The big difference now is if you’re feeling sick but think you can push through it, they’d rather you stay home.”

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