Thursday, September 17, 2009

Blazers defending against H1N1, too

Daily News Sports Editor
As another WHL season begins, the Kamloops Blazers are preparing for the arrival of a different opponent — the H1N1 virus.
It isn’t like the Blazers don’t take precautions every season, it’s just that this time they have amped things up a bit.
“It’s certainly on our minds,” Colin Robinson, the Blazers’ veteran trainer, said. “It’s definitely something to be a little bit worried about; it’s definitely something to be aware of. I think that’s the main thing — awareness.
“We have done some precautionary things a little earlier than usual. We talked to the players earlier about sharing and washing their hands. Usually those are things we talk about once the flu starts to come out. This time, we took those steps a lot earlier.”
There are other things that are being done, too, like making sure all the water bottles are washed after every practice.
“We are keeping them as clean as we can,” Robinson said. “And if I see someone’s lips even close to the lid of a water bottle, I’m barking right away.”
At the same time, Robinson knows that he is fighting something of a losing battle because every team has times during the season when its dressing room gets hit by a flu bug.
“It’s going to happen,” Robinson said with a shrug.
It already has in Prince Albert, where a number of players missed practice earlier this week.
“It’s been on and off — a handful of guys — right from camp on,” Raiders trainer Duane Bartley told the Prince Albert Daily Herald. “Sniffles and sore throats. It goes through, one by one, kind of thing. Every year is the same.”
Which is what happens when a group of people spend so much time in close proximity to each other.
“When we go to Regina,” Robinson explained, “it’s a 17-hour drive and we’re all together, sleeping together.”
Having said that, precautions are being taken, as they always are.
“We’ve put hand-sanitizer on the bus and Brennan Driedger, our bus driver, does an amazing job keeping it as clean as he can,” Robinson said. “And he is going to step that up even more, just with the sanitization part, mopping, disinfecting the handrails, things like that.”
Robinson is adamant, as he always has been, that players report even the slightest sniffle.
“That’s been going on forever . . . that’s the way I operate,” he said. “If you have a sniffle, I want to know about it right away. I stress that, I harp on that a lot. That’s me and that won’t change.”
Right now, he admitted, there probably is a bit more urgency to his request.
“If a guy has the runs, for example, I want to know about it right away,” he said. “And that’s probably a little more urgent than even in years past.”
And, of course, the team’s medical staff, headed up by Dr. Todd Ring, is involved on a daily basis. The Blazers, as they always do, will get flu shots but, Robinson said, a decision on whether to have all the players vaccinated against H1N1 is “in (Dr. Ring’s) hands.”
Dr. Ring said Thursday that he has made that decision.
“I definitely will recommend to the team that the players get vaccinated,” Dr. Ring said, adding that H1N1 “is definitely a concern.”
“At this time, the H1N1 hasn’t proven to be as aggressive or as dangerous a virus as what is probably feared,” he said. “It is going to be quite contagious.”
The big risk for teams, he said, “is that if one player gets sick then there is the potential for it to quickly spread through the team. That is one of the biggest reasons why we strongly encourage the vaccination . . . to prevent the entire team from coming down with something.
“The other component is encouraging good hygiene practices . . . washing your hands, coughing into your shoulder or sleeve, and having alcohol-based hand-sanitizers around.”
Veteran forward Shayne Wiebe, one of the club’s alternate captains, said he and his teammates certainly are aware of H1N1, but that they aren’t overly concerned.
“Not overly . . . just more of the same thing,” he said. “Just make sure you’re always washing your hands and not sharing bottles and cups. We don’t want people getting worried about it; just do the things you normally do.”
Blazers head coach Barry Smith also is aware of the situation and is working to avoid fatigue in the players.
“We’re in shape, so we don’t have to work on that and wear the guys down,” he said, adding that the players are always being reminded about fluid intake and proper rest.
But, at the end of the day, the players are young and . . .
“The kids think they’re invincible, there’s no question about that,” Robinson said. “If a kid wants a drink of Coke and his buddy has one, he’s going to take a sip of it. It is what it is.
“But I really think that the information that’s out there, they’re talking about it in the schools, it’s all over the place . . . I’m hoping that the education they are getting is going to help make it better.”

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