International conferences are a sensitive spot for the dissemination of highly contagious diseases like Swine Flu (H1N1), Bird Flu (H1N5) or just regular flu. This is because they gather lots of people and travelers in particular, who have a higher possibility of being exposed to someone carrying it while going to the conference (think of crowded places like airports, train stations, etc).
Not only conferences usually take place in a closed environment where air is being constantly re-circulated but also people tend to meet each other and shake hands (yes, that’s what networking is all about).
One extreme way of reducing the risk of contagious would be not to shake hands at all -as TechCrunch founder Mike Arrington seems keen on (see Hand Shaking Is So Medieval. Let’s End It) but I think there are other more practical methods for doing so.
The most simple way of reducing the risk of catching a flu is washing your hands often, especially before & after going to the toilet and before & after eating. To further reduce this risk I suggest the event organizer provides disinfecting substances at several strategic spots inside the venue.
Example 1: place dispensers containing disinfecting solutions in high transit spots like the entrance to the venue, registration area and catering/coffee break area.
Example 2: provide the attendees, speakers and staff with individual doses of the cleansing substance so that they can use it during the day.
Providing disinfecting substances is indeed an extra cost for the conference organizer but it could also represent an opportunity to find a new sponsor. Look for commercial brands that sell those kind of products (in drugstores, pharmacies and supermarkets) and offer them visibility/branding in exchange for a free supply of the product.
Another positive side-effect of providing a disinfecting substance is that it reduces the anxiety some people have about catching the flu while at crowded places. You are showing that you care about your audience’s health, not only their money.
Some advice to more effective hand washing:
There’s a five-star way to wash one’s hands: Use warm water lather for 15 to 20 seconds, wash under fingernails, rinse well, and dry with a fresh, clean paper toweling that’s then discarded (or use an air dryer). If possible, use a paper towel to turn off the faucet. (Source: H1N1 HandWashing — How Often? “Washable Moments”)