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H1N1 threat stops post-game handshakes

Players reach for tip-off at Duckworth Centre
Photo Credit: Winnipeg Minor Basketball Association

Dan Roller left his house on Saturday, Nov. 7, 2009 with a clipboard, a bag of basketballs, and one item he hadn’t packed before as coach of the Valley Gardens Vipers: hand-sanitizer.

It’s another sign of the impact H1N1 is having in Winnipeg communities.

When the final buzzer sounded at the University of Winnipeg’s Duckworth Centre, Roller told his team of 10-year old boys they won’t be shaking hands with opposing Tyndall Park. Instead, they huddled together and gave three cheers.

As a safeguard against the spread of H1N1, the Winnipeg Minor Basketball Association (WMBA) has temporarily suspended the practice of post-game handshakes. Roller brought hand-sanitizer with him on Nov. 7 in case any of his players had concerns about bacteria getting on their hands.

And after the game, they had to adjust to a new routine.

“I think they were probably confused just because they’re so used to always running to see who’s going to be first in line to shake everybody’s hand,” said Roller.

Monique Liarakos, president of the Manitoba chapter of the Community and Hospital Infection Control Association (CHICA), called it an “excellent move” for the WMBA to suspend shaking hands after games.

“Handshaking without cleaning your hands can transmit the (H1N1) virus and proper hand-hygiene won’t be readily available (for players after games),” said Liarakos, who noted that players who are ill should stay home.

Each gym the WMBA uses has been equipped with hand-sanitizer, according to executive director Lee Hurton. But she says it’s not a viable option to force players to wash their hands and then shake hands with opponents because there’s not enough time after games and it would be too difficult to supervise.

“The only thing we could control was to take away the handshake and that’s why that was done,” said Hurton.

Paul McQueen, who was at Isaac Brock Community Centre to watch his six-year old grandson, Ashton, play on Nov. 7, applauded the WMBA’s decision. He thinks any step that may reduce the spread of H1N1, no matter how small, is a good one.

“Every little precaution adds to the bigger picture, and if only saves a couple of illnesses it’s done its job,” said McQueen.

But Steve Klapprat, whose six-year old son, Wes, plays with the Norwood 5-7 coed team, says stopping post-game handshakes is an overreaction to an illness that many are getting too worked up about.

“Everyone gets the common cold and flu, and people die from the regular flu,” Klapprat said. “But now this H1N1, all the sudden someone dies from that and they’re freaking out about it. I think it’s made up to be too big of a thing.”

The WMBA is not the only sports body in the city to be taking preventive measures against H1N1. The Winnipeg Youth Soccer Association is no longer requiring teams to shake hands before games, and the tapping of gloves is replacing post-game handshakes for the rest of the season for all games within the Winnipeg Minor Hockey Association.

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