In the Line of Fire: Mex City Dentist Informs on Flu

With the current outbreak of swine flu, health officials and the general public are concerned about what direction this situation might take.

It has been widely reported that Mexico City is the epicenter for this latest public health challenge. Not yet deemed a pandemic, the World Health Organization as well as health officials around the world are taking the current turn of events very seriously.

I caught up with Dr. Alejandra Villalobos Aguayo, a well known dentist in Mexico City. Dentists treat patients, at close proximity, face to face every single day. If anyone is in the line of fire for the flu, it has to be dentists.

Dr. Villalobos shared with me some keen insights on preventing transmission of contagious diseases that are particularly poignant in light of this outbreak.

Listen to the CYInterview with Dr. Alejandra Villalobos Aguayo:

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Chris Yandek: Doctor, reading your resume, I see that well beyond doing basic dental work you specialize in as well as performing all the forms of cosmetic dentistry that have become so popular today. And you have treated Mexican celebrities and a variety prominent people in Mexico. You also have been a well respected professor of dentistry.

Tell me, being that you are in the eye of the storm – in Mexico City in one of the top medical centers – how is the Mexican public reacting to this influenza outbreak.

Dr. Alejandra Villalobos: “Well Chris, here in Mexico City I think that we have a storm of information, because the media sometimes magnifies the facts. So the people are afraid of the flu. We know that we are facing a significant virus and we need be conscious and take care of ourselves. We see people with facemasks in the street and if is not necessary to go out, people should stay home.

CY: Dentists are in a challenging environment owing to the fact that they work so closely with so many people. I mean, after all, your work is literally face to face with your patients.

Now, this flu outbreak is nothing new in terms of being a challenge for dental practitioners. Dentists routinely treat people with all kinds of maladies, known and unknown.

How do dentists effectively protect themselves against infection?

AV: “We do it by first, washing our hands adequately and taking a complete clinical history of the patient to discount the possibility of any type of disease that might be contagious. We utilize physical barriers like gloves, surgical masks, glasses, robes and disposable, self-adhering protectors on the arms of the dental chair itself. We also use a wide variety of disposable items like cups, bibs, gauze, needles, etc. all in the name of hygiene and safety

We change these things for every patient. This serves to protect both patient and doctor.”

CY: For the people listening to this interview, what steps can they take to prevent catching the flu? I ask you to base this on your experience running a dental practice as well as teaching dental students to stay healthy.

AV: “I mentioned what we do inside a dental office to insure patient and dentist safety. Similar procedures can be used to lower the risks of disease transmission in everyday life – particularly during a time like this.

As in a dental practice, thorough hand washing is a must. Articles like surgical masks can be utilized when among people and in crowded areas, to minimize the airborne transmission of the flu. The masks, when they are to be disposed, should be treated as medical waste.

In a way, if people copy the dental office model of hygiene and protection they can lessen the risks of contracting the flu. This might be something that is not normally looked at as practical but during a flu outbreak it makes sense.

Again, hand washing, keeping the hands away from the face, wearing surgical type masks, staying away from crowds, keeping things clean all sound basic but they are measures that can be of great help if adhered to. If they did not work, dentists would always be out sick.”

CY: In closing, what do you see in the future for this flu-bug?

AV: “Here in Mexico, if each one of us follows the guidelines established by the Secretary of Health, this situation may be slowed down and ultimately stopped. This will eventually return things to a more normal situation.

The public should be conscious that this is a serious problem and we should focus on hygiene, avoid the typical greetings of shaking hands or kissing as well as avoiding contact with people who are ill.”